Researchers in Vienna have developed antibodies to treat cancer in dogs for the first time.

Scientists at the inter-university Messerli Research Institute of the Vetmeduni Vienna, the Medical University of Vienna, and the University of Vienna published the results of the study recently in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

As in humans, cancers in dogs have complex causes and the interaction of the environment, food, and genetic disposition are the most well known factors.

Today, nearly all methods of human medicine are available for dogs with cancer, but this was not true of cancer immunotherapy.

Cancer immunotherapy – which is the treatment of tumours by the use of antibodies – has been established and used in human medicine for about 20 years.

As cancer cells bear very specific antigens on the surface, the corresponding antibodies bind to these molecules and inhibit tumour growth.

The mechanism that becomes effective is a destructive signal sent by the antibody to the inside of the cancer cell and initiates its death.

In a second mechanism, the immune system of the patient also destroys the “marked” tumour in a more efficient way.

Josef Singer and Judith Fazekas, both lead authors of the study, discovered a receptor frequently found on human tumour cells (epidermal growth factor receptor [EGFR]) is nearly 100% identical with the EGF receptor in dogs.

In human medicine EGFR is frequently used as the target of cancer immunotherapy because many cancer cells bear this receptor on their surface.

According to the scientists, due to the high similarity of the receptor in humans and dogs, this type of therapy should work well in dogs too.

Head of the study Erika Jensen-Jarolim said: “We expect dogs to tolerate these anti-cancer antibodies well.
“This will be investigated in clinical studies in the future and is expected to greatly improve the treatment as well as the diagnosis of cancer in dogs.”

“The Veterinary Medical University, Vienna will be the first centre in the world to offer the most modern immunological cancer diagnosis procedure for dogs.

“Of special interest to me, as a doctor of human medicine, is the fact that, by using this approach, we will be able to initiate improvements that will benefit humans as well.”

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