Research roundup: Strengthening approaches to using the immune system to fight cancer in dogs and humans

June 21, 2022

Looking to improve their understanding of how to engage a dog’s immune system in detecting and destroying cancer cells, researchers at the University of Minnesota recently completed a lab based study exploring aspects of immune function at a cellular level. Specifically, they sought to modify and apply what has been learned from immunotherapy treatments used in human medicine and in previous lab studies to design more effective treatments for cancer in dogs.  Because certain cancer cells behave very similarly in dogs and humans, knowledge gained in this study will inform immunotherapy treatments on the human side as well.

With approximately six million dogs developing cancer each year in the United States, there is high demand to find better ways to treat our canine companions. One promising treatment option, immunotherapy, is a commonly used therapy in certain types of human cancer.  However, it is not as well understood or available to treat canine cancers. In this recently completed study, Bruce Walcheck, PhD, and his team sought to apply principles and techniques of immunotherapy used for human cancers to a naturally occurring canine cancer mode - hoping to clarify and improve immunotherapy treatment applications for both species. 

In its fight against cancer, the body’s immune system detects harmful cells and produces antibodies or proteins that attach to antigen cells to attack tumor cells. Laboratory-made antibodies known as monoclonal antibodies are used to boost the body’s natural immune response to cancer. Using lab-engineered cells known as NK cells to target and destroy cancer cells and cells collected from dogs and modified to produce monoclonal antibodies in combination with proven-effective human receptor cells modified for use in a dog immunotherapy model, the team observed immune responses in a cellular model of canine cancer.  They also tested the process in a mouse model that replicates the disease in canines. Ultimately what they discovered about the manufactured NK cells and monoclonal antibodies and cloned and modified receptor-medicating cells can be used to improve immunotherapy techniques to treat certain types of cancer in humans and canines.

Read more in the February 24 paper published in Frontiers in Immunology.