Explore alternative method for research
I would like to discuss an alternative method for cancer research. When we hear about research related to diseases like cancer, we tend to imagine the study being done in a laboratory setting where little rodents are the cancer models. Although scientists have learned many things about cancer by using rodent cancer models like rat and mice, they have not unlocked the full potential of cancer research because they rely too often on these models.
A better model for cancer research is the dog because of the nature of cancer in dogs. Dogs tend to get cancer naturally much like humans do. However, cancer is induced in rodents like rat and mice. Therefore, the artificial cancer is not as effective for cancer studies as naturally occurring cancer in dogs. In fact, some drugs that cure cancers in lab rodents do not cure similar cancers in humans. Dog cancers have shown similar characteristics to cancers in humans. Osteosarcoma in dogs tends to have similar skeletal location and aggressiveness to osteosarcoma in humans. Unfortunately, there is little data on cancer research in dogs.
A good start would be to research cancer-causing factors in dogs by integrating citizen science, where pet owners get involved in the study. Dr. Julie Fagan, an associate research professor at Rutgers University, and undergraduate researchers have started studying various factors (diet, exercise and environment) that play a role in canine cancer. A program, currently under development, will provide guidelines for pet owners who volunteer for this study to control certain variables and record the appropriate data about their dogs.
Aakash Babaria is a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior majoring in biological sciences.