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12 April 2002 News Update


Research into canine cancers could provide valuable insight into cancer in humans.

Professor Jo Milner, together with doctorate student Jeanette Watterson, has established the York University Cancer Research p53 group, in York, northern England, initially to reduce cancers in dogs.

''Dogs have a very high incidence of cancer and very little is understood about why,'' said Professor Milner. "We set out initially to investigate the possibility that some of the tumours found in dogs may involve mutation of the p53 gene.

''In humans, p53 occurs naturally in the body and suppresses the development of cancer. If the p53 gene is damaged it cannot function as well and this is when cancer can begin to develop. In humans more than half of all cancers have a p53 link.''

Together with vet Matthew Brash, Professor Milner studied tissue samples taken from dogs visiting his surgery. The samples showed that p53 occurred at an even higher rate than in humans.

She also discovered evidence that certain dogs inherit a mutated p53 gene which means they could be born with a predisposition to developing cancer and then pass it on.

For example, poodle and boxer dogs are prone to mammary cancer and large breeds such as great Danes and Irish wolfhounds are susceptible to bone cancer. Professor Milner believes there is a strong probability that cancer predisposition in at least some breeds of dogs is linked to inherited mutation in the p53 gene.

This may well lead to the development of a screening process to identify dogs carrying the genetic defect in p53 and have a predisposition of cancer. Such dogs could then be excluded from breeding to prevent the ailment being passed on.

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