Cancer is quite possibly the most challenging disease on the planet, and who better to help us find a way to cure it than man’s best friend? In her new book, author and journalist Arlene Weintraub explores the question of whether or not dogs can help cancer researchers find the information they are looking for. Entitled Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures, the book was inspired by Weintraub’s sister who passed away after a battle with gastric cancer.
The book is based on Weintraub’s research over the past two years about how clinical trials on dogs have helped to foster the development of cancer-fighting drugs for humans. Weintraub’s sister, Beth, only lived a year beyond her diagnosis. During that time the author, a reporter who covers science and health issues, found out that dogs are playing a larger role in cancer research than ever before.
Weintraub began her research by looking at a medical trial performed on canines in 2001 that led the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) to approve a drug called Palladia, which was used to treat cancer in canines. That same research was later used to develop Sutent, a drug used in humans to help shrink advanced mast cell tumors.
In Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures Weintraub states that compared to other animals commonly used in cancer research, dogs are better candidates. She backs up her statement with documentation that shows that many drugs that work on lab rats do not work on humans.
Because rodents generally do not develop cancer naturally, they have to be engineered to have cancer. Weintraub says that this is believed to be the main reason that some therapies don’t translate well from rodents to humans. Dogs, like people, develop cancer naturally because they share our environment and therefore have many of the same risk factors.
Weintraub believes that more testing involving dogs could lead to a variety of treatments for other cancer strains in humans. She says:
“Dogs get a lot of the same types of cancer that people get, including lymphoma, breast cancer, some of the most common cancers. And they’re recruited into clinical trials just like a person would be in a clinical trial. And the main purpose, of course, is to help the dogs and also to learn about therapies that might end up being very useful to people.”
The book tells about Beth’s battle with cancer in between all the chapters on cancer research. It’s well written and very easy to read, even for us non-medical types. This book incorporates some great information and scientific research that is woven into an inspiring story. It’s a great read for dog lovers, science and medical enthusiasts and anyone whose life has been touched by cancer in any way.
Now before anyone gets on their soap box about dog’s being used in clinical trials, remember that these dogs are recruited for such trials. They are dogs who, for the most part, are already suffering with cancer and their owners sign them up for these research studies hoping to find a cure or at least help progress the research that is being done to look for one. I would be more than willing to sign one of our pets up for a clinical trial if I thought there was a chance it may help them or benefit the researchers who are trying to find a cure.