True Giants …. Curing humans & their animal companions

The Land of PureGold Foundation became a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit corporation in February 2005. The formation of our organization followed a period of 8 years that the Landofpuregold.com had been a presence on the web, supporting and engaging in various charitable endeavors and providing numerous educational activities to promote the human-canine bond.

One of our goals is to raise monies for research in comparative oncology, which is the study of cancers that occur similarly in companion animals and humans. Another, is to support and disseminate information on canine cancers; and, to educate and promote interest in research of those cancers in companion animals that share a similarity to the cancers that afflict children.

Given the tough economic times and the limited resources of such a small non-profit, fundraising has been difficult. But, we decided to bite the bullet and provide $20,000 to Dr. Jaime Modiano for one of his exciting comparative oncology research projects. The funding went to Minnesota Medical Foundation’s Comparative Oncology Research Fund for the following:

PROJECT TITLE: Discovery and Characterization of Heritable and Somatic Cancer Mutations in Golden Retrievers (this project also involves Hemangiosarcoma)

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATORS: Dr. Jaime Modiano (Veterinary Clinical Sciences), Dr. Jim Cerhan (Mayo Clinic), Dr. Matthew Breen (North Carolina State University), Dr. Kerstin Lindblad-Toh (Broad Institute)

PROJECT GOALS: We propose to identify and characterize heritable (genetic) traits that contribute to risk and progression of hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma in golden retrievers. This project is developed as a partnership between the GRF and the Investigators, Drs. Modiano, Breen and Lindblad-Toh. The goal to “make a major impact” carries some risk, but in this project, risk is mitigated by the financial commitment from the GRF and MAF, as well as by the investigators’ entrepreneurial spirit, the extensive preliminary data from their laboratories, and their collective expertise applying state-of-the-art genome-wide technologies to cancer investigation. Our long-term goals are (1) to institute simple, straightforward tests to allow assessment of the specific genetic risk carried by an individual dog and thereby to allow breeders to develop strategies that will slowly reduce the incidence of hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma in golden retrievers, while retaining the positive phenotypes of the breed, and (2) to develop effective diagnostics, risk reduction, and treatment strategies for hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma that will benefit not only golden retrievers and other dogs, but also humans with these diseases.

Dr. Modiano is a true treasure. Our back-and-forth correspondences have exemplified both his wisdom and patience, prized traits for successful researchers such as himself. Dr. Modiano is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s V.M.D.-Ph.D. Program. Graduates with this or D.V.M.-Ph.D. degrees go on to careers in translational research, thus qualified to develop and do research in animal models, compare basic biology across animals, and translate research findings to different species including humans.

Jaime Modiano is one of the graduates who elected to focus on academic research. After completing the V.M.D.-Ph.D. program at Penn, Modiano went to Colorado State University for a residency in pathology. At the end of his residency, he realized that “you can’t go into science with just a Ph.D. and clinical training. I really needed to do a postdoc.” He joined the lab of Erwin Gelfand at the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine (now National Jewish Health) to do research on T-cell activation, the subject of his Ph.D. research. He soon realized, however, that his residency training in pathology and his research interest in immunology didn’t mesh well professionally.

“My research in immunology was so disconnected from [my clinical work] that I had to make a choice because I wasn’t being excellent at either aspect of my career,” Modiano says. He decided to stick with research and joined the staff of the University of Colorado–affiliated AMC Cancer Research Center while serving as an associate professor of immunology at the School of Medicine of the University of Colorado, Denver. “It was kind of fun being at a medical school and known as the weird guy who worked with dogs,” says Modiano, who is now a professor of comparative oncology at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and the Masonic Cancer Center, where his research focuses on immunology, cancer cell biology, cancer genetics, and applications of gene therapy. …

Irrespective of the path that their careers have taken, D.V.M.-Ph.D.s have opportunities to make significant contributions to biomedical research, for the benefit of both humans and animals. This becomes apparent in diseases such as cancer: Dogs and cats suffer from naturally occurring cancers similar to human cancers. Unlike rodent models, which are developed from inbred strains of mice kept in controlled environments, companion animals, like humans, are genetically diverse and are exposed to many of the same environmental influences as their owners are. …

A critical barrier to using companion animals in preclinical research is organizing those studies. It’s a problem that Chand Khanna recognized when he arrived at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1997 to do a postdoc. “I came with the intent to study molecular biology techniques,” says Khanna, a D.V.M-Ph.D. who is now a senior scientist in NCI’s pediatric oncology branch. “But I also came with the veterinarian perspective, and as I talked to people, I realized there was an opportunity to answer questions in dogs with cancer that can’t be answered in either humans or mice. And that is critical for the development of new drugs.”

To that end, Khanna created the Comparative Oncology Program within NCI’s Center for Cancer Research. By linking together veterinary scientists at research centers across the country and in Canada, the studies completed through the program’s Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium provide valuable information needed to design human clinical trials.

Khanna believes companion animals will play an ever-increasing role in biomedical research on cancer and other diseases. As such, he believes there is an obvious role for dual-degree veterinarians. Penn’s Volk agrees: “For me and most of my colleagues, … we are thrilled to make a difference for our animal patients,” Volk says. “But really, there is an opportunity with appropriate animal models to make a huge difference for the human community as well.”

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2 thoughts on “True Giants …. Curing humans & their animal companions

  1. WTG Rochelle!!! You have done so much for the Golden community and this is just one more example of how anyone can make a difference.
    Bless you and love you,
    Alice

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