Radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Kent really wants to defeat cancer. He’s been testing the latest and greatest high-tech treatments in clinical trials and utilizing multi-million dollar linear accelerator so can provide the best treatments for his patients. Kent is a veterinarian. Unsatisfied by the lack of treatment options for dogs with certain tumors and cancers that have metastasized, he’s actively looking for new treatments to advance the lives of his patients. But because the biology of dogs and humans is so similar, what he discovers here at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine could also help treat human cancers.
“For a long time, we’ve looked at humans to see how to treat dogs,” Kent stated. “We’re starting to do a little bit of the reverse now.”
This field is also known as comparative medicine, using animals to get a better understanding of how to treat human diseases. We’ve seen or heard of it a lot being used in creatures such as rats, mice, and guinea pigs have been the mainstay for quite some time of medical research and studies for experimental treatments.
What’s different is that veterinarians are now conducting in-depth clinical trials of new treatments with the goal in mind they might eventually benefit humans as well as the family pet. Progressively, they’re using dogs and cats and other companion animals in these experiments, as medical researchers acknowledge the restrictions of traditional lab animals.
This comes at a crucial time, experts in the field express, because of there little oncology drugs or drugs for a lot of diseases that matter- that end up getting approved for use in humans after displaying promise early on in lab studies.
“There’s things we find in the lab that we think might be helpful, then we get to the clinic and they either don’t work or are toxic,” stated Dr. Arta Monjazeb, a radiation oncologist at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center who’s partnered with Kent to test new treatments in dogs. One immune therapy that the two recently tested to minimize metastatic lung cancer in his dog patients will soon enter clinical trials in humans at Davis.
Though Monjazeb never anticipated being working with veterinarians when he entered medicine twenty years ago, he said he’s accepted the work with pets in hopes it will ramp up the discovery of new drugs, a process he finds considerably slow. “There’s a sense of urgency,” he said. “A lot of patients still need new treatments.”
“The field is building momentum,” quoted Dr. Kathryn M. Meurs, associate dean at the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine, which is part of a large Comparative Medicine Institute where veterinarians regularly collaborate with doctors at Duke University and the University of North Carolina. “It’s taking on more substantial problems like cancer, infectious disease, cardiology, and neurology,” she added.