Study sheds light on new potential target for treating an aggressive cancer in dogs

April 17, 2023

Red Chow dog laying on the ground with its tongue out

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A recent study has identified inhibiting the protein MET as a new potential route for treating aggressive melanoma in dogs. Even though surgery and radiation can help early-stage canine malignant melanoma, these treatments are not as effective once the aggressive form of cancer has spread. Combining chemotherapy and a DNA vaccine might help treat some more advanced cases where the cancer has spread, but research has not shown that this approach can reliably stop the cancer or help dogs live longer.

This study, led by Drs. Karen Koo and Alessio Giubellino, researchers from the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Masonic Cancer Center, investigated the role MET plays in dog malignant melanoma.

MET is a protein found on the surface of cells that helps tell cells to grow, move, and survive. Scientists have studied this protein in humans and found that when it is activated the wrong way, it can help cancer cells to grow and spread. Research shows that inhibiting MET can help control disease progression in humans, but similar targeted therapies have not been developed for dogs. This recent study was the first to evaluate how MET affects prognosis and survival in dogs with canine malignant melanoma. 

The researchers found that MET was present in 63 percent of the cancer tissues they tested. While the MET levels did not appear to be associated with a dog’s survival, different levels of MET might be related to the time of disease spread to the lymph nodes versus other organs. This information could help clinicians better anticipate how this cancer develops and spreads in dogs, which can in turn help lead to additional treatment options. 

“It is an exciting thought, as a veterinary oncologist, that we can potentially identify patients who may be at a higher risk of disease spread to lymph nodes or other organs,” says Koo. “And if treating these patients with MET inhibitors can help extend their quality of life by slowing down the disease spread, particularly in malignant melanoma where systemic treatments are currently lacking, that will be amazing.” 

Future research, the scientists say, should further assess this suggested relationship between MET and lymph node metastasis in a larger group of dogs. Read the full study in Veterinary Sciences.

Categories: Research