We all know the saying that dogs are our best friends. However, a new study suggests that this bond may transcend mere friendship: studying dogs might help us cure glioblastoma, the most deadly variant of brain cancer. This study, conducted at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science and Uppsala University, suggests that analyzing the underlying genetic factors behind the formation of glioblastoma in dogs could shed insight into the formation of this extremely lethal and often untreatable tumor in humans. After analyzing the genomes of 25 dog breeds, three genes were identified to be associated with glioblastoma.
Glioblastoma, the deadliest variant of brain cancer in humans, is unfortunately the most common form of malignant brain tumors in humans and the second most in dogs. It is a type of astercytoma, a cancer that forms in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes. In adults, this tumor is typically found in the cerebrum, the largest region of the brain. Currently, there is no known cure for this tumor. Instead, treatments, or more aptly, a combination of treatments are utilized to control the growth of the tumor and improve the patient’s quality of life. These treatments include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and electric-field therapy.
Several dog breeds, such as the Boxer, Bulldog and Boston Terrier, have an elevated risk of developing glioma, while certain related breeds do not, suggesting that a mix of genes may impact glioma formation. As Dr Truvé says, “Researchers in the consortium are now continuing the analysis of the genes identified, and their functional roles in development and progression of glioma in both dogs and humans.”
Image Source: Ilka & Franz
The goal of this study was to identify the genetic variations that contribute to the development of glioblastoma. In order to accomplish this goal, scientists conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) using blood samples from 39 dogs diagnosed with glioblastoma and 141 control dogs (or dogs that were not diagnosed with glioblastoma). In doing so, these scientists were able to identify three genes that were particularly prevalent among dogs with glioblastoma: CAMKK2, P2RX7, and DENR.
After carefully analyzing these genes, these scientists were able to determine that two of these genes have additional connections to glioblastoma. Further experiments by the scientists have demonstrated that CAMKK2 is expressed in lower levels in both human and canine cancer tissue. Moreover, additional studies have found that a variation of P2RX7 has been associated with a reduction in protein function in dogs, while other variants of the gene have been linked to cancer.
Dr. Truvé and the other scientists that contributed to this study are hopeful that future investigation of these three genes may hold the key to both better understanding and, ultimately, curing glioblastoma in both humans and canines.