Dogs are helping scientists discover better cancer treatments

Can dogs help treat or even cure cancer in humans?

A growing body of research shows man’s best friend is speeding up the development of cancer-fighting

Dogs are helping scientists discover better cancer treatments 


Scientists say humans and dogs are about 95 percent identical genetically and cancer affects them in the same way it does us.

“The cancer that dogs develop is much more similar to the human condition,” said Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Deborah Knapp, Director of the Comparative Oncology Program at Purdue University.

The veterinarian’s work helps compare cancers in dogs to cancers in humans to develop new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.

Channel 2's Tom Regan visited Purdue to see the clinical trials that scientists say could be a game-changer.

“Comparative oncology means studying cancer across species, so you can learn something from one species that applies to another,” said Knapp.


In clinical trials at Purdue University, dogs with naturally occurring cancers are given new treatments to attack tumors.

Blue, a Sheltie sheepdog, has urinary bladder cancer.  “He turned up with the symptoms about well a year ago,” said Blue’s owner Ward Witt.

When Witt learned of Blue’s cancer, he figured his friend only had months to live. He learned of the research at Purdue and signed him up.

“This seemed like a treatment that can actually do something,” said Witt.

Channel 2 Action News recorded video of Knapp doing an ultrasound on Blue to try to determine if the cancer is controlled and if the treatment is working.

“We think the clinical trials are a win-win-win scenario because every dog gets hope for a new treatment that’s going to help them,” said Knapp.

With treatment, Blue’s tumor shrank and his quality of life has grown. “We were pleased. We were very happy. Like I said we kind of hoping that it would disappear. We were very pleased. It was very good news,” said Witt.

Researchers told us only one out of every 10 clinical trials of new cancer drugs in humans is successful. Researchers at Purdue say testing cancer drugs in dogs can more accurately predict their success in humans compared to laboratory tests or tests with mice. That speeds up clinical trials while reducing costs.

“So, the cost of just the phase one trial is $35 million. So, if you can go through a dog at a much lower cost and evaluate these drugs and eliminate the losers early on, you’re saving drug companies a lot of money, and that will mean lower costs of drugs in the end,” said Timothy Ratliff, the Robert Wallace Miller Director at Purdue University Center for Cancer Research.

“I mean, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it saved his life,” said Laurie Hoffman.

Her Scottie, Dexter, who has bladder cancer, joined the research program two years ago. She says his cancer has been contained.

“It’s really amazing. So, we really believe in research, medical research that can be shared with humans, humans with animals,” said Hoffman.

Dog owners participate in the program for a minimal cost. Many travel long distances to get this cutting- edge cancer treatment for their pets.

Brenda and David Schisler drive nearly five hours each way every month for Mini, who also has bladder cancer.

“Usually with bladder cancer, it’s a three, to six-month life span. Well, it’s been 23 months ago. It’s a big difference. So, we’ll do obviously, anything for her. But we know she has a greater purpose,” said Brenda Schisler.

“That’s the most gratifying part of all this. Someday it could be one of our loved ones, your loved ones that someday that could benefit their life or save their life,” said David Schisler.

Knapp is confident dogs can make a difference. “I am absolutely sure dogs have the potential to help humans find better treatments, and potentially a cure for cancer,” said Knapp.

Purdue University is one of just a handful of research centers conducting comparative oncology trials with dogs. But that research will expand, holding the promise of even better detection and treatment of cancer in humans.