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Breast cancer in dogs, cats and other animals is being studied for parallels to human breast cancer.
Breast cancer in dogs, cats and other animals is being studied for parallels to human breast cancer.

What animals can teach us about breast cancer


Dogs and cats have a high incidence of breast cancer, compared to horses, pigs and cows, which have a low incidence.

Researchers wonder what they can learn from that difference.

Upstate breast surgeon Lisa Lai, MD, has teamed up with Cornell University veterinarian Gerlinde Van de Walle, DVM, PhD, to study the levels of microRNA particles present in blood, saliva and urine. MicroRNA are small molecules involved in regulating a cell’s activity and appear to play an important role in many biological processes and diseases.

Van de Walle already identified microRNA that exists in significantly different levels in dogs and cats, who frequently develop breast cancer, and horses, pigs and sheep, who rarely develop breast cancer. Now she and Lai will investigate whether a similar difference exists in humans with breast cancer, compared to humans who do not have breast cancer.

“This is really in its infancy. So much of modern medicine began in an animal lab and then got expanded to humans,” Lai says of the collaboration. A grant from The Baldwin Fund will help pay for the project, which Lai says will rely on samples from the Upstate Medical University Biorepository.

The repository collects, processes, stores and distributes specimens from donors with cancer and donors without cancer who receive treatment at Upstate and who want to help advance research. Gennady Bratslavsky, MD, is the director, and Dawn Post, PhD, is the coordinator.

Lai and Van de Walle hope to confirm a significant difference in microRNA levels between humans with cancer and humans without cancer. If they do, they envision a screening tool might be developed to help identify those at highest risk for breast cancer.

This article appears in the summer 2021 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

Read it online at issuu.com.

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