The Flint Animal Cancer Center has worked closely with the University of Colorado Cancer Center for more than two decades. Together, we are partners in the world’s most advanced comparative oncology research program. Through many collaborative projects, our scientists and clinicians work with their teams to develop new treatment strategies that can be rapidly and safely studied in pet dogs to inform studies in people.

Last year, FACC director, Dr. Rod Page, and his CU counterpart, Dr. Richard Schulick, announced a new collaborative initiative that awarded a total of $200,000 to four comparative oncology research projects. The projects were jointly funded and each includes a principal investigator from CSU and CU.

The goal of this collaborative initiative is to stimulate robust preliminary research that leads the way for future projects to demonstrate the value of comparative cancer research. Each project was awarded 12-month funding, with the long-term goal of using the research findings and results to support a subsequent multi-year national grant application.

“We hope that each pilot study will lead to a larger project with support from a major funder, like the National Institutes of Health, and ultimately translate to more rapid progress for pets and people with cancer,” Dr. Page said.

Investigators at both campuses were encouraged to submit proposals. Four winning projects were chosen; they represent a broad base of cancer research in both humans and pets. The projects are as follows:

Identifying Essential Genetic Drivers in Canine Osteosarcoma
Collaborators from CSU and CU are working together to identify biological dependencies in canine osteosarcoma using whole genome CRISPR-Cas9 libraries. In the course of this project, researchers will be screening every single gene in the canine genome to better understand what genes are involved in canine osteosarcoma to systematically find new treatments.

This project is managed by Dawn Duval, PhD, of Colorado State University and James Costello, PhD and Molishree Joshi, PhD of CU Cancer Center.

This study has brought together novel research from both campuses to screen the entire dog genome simultaneously against the first-ever canine genome library. This work allows researchers to quickly identify new treatments for canine osteosarcoma based on the genetic findings. The hope is that this information can then be used to treat humans as well.

Studying Similarities Between Human and Canine Sinonasal Carcinomas
There is abundant canine research about sinonasal carcinomas, but much less available on the human side. In this collaborative research project, researchers are establishing canine sinonasal carcinoma as a translational model for sinonasal carcinoma treatment involving radiation and immune therapy for humans.

Dr. Keara Boss and Dr. Steve Dow from CSU are working with Dr. Sana Karam of CU to use the available canine studies to do a comparative analysis of treatments and outcomes to inform care for all species.

Sinonasal carcinomas are one of the most aggressive and deadly forms of human cancer. However, it’s rare so there are few clinical trials available to study new treatments.

Under Dr. Boss and others, CSU has years of experience treating sinonasal carcinoma in canines, especially with radiation. Collaborators will work together to do a comparative analysis between dogs and humans with this diagnosis to improve treatments for both species.

Studying the Effectiveness of CHD1L Inhibitors in Human and Canine Cancer
Daniel Gustafson, PhD of Colorado State University, and Daniel LaBarbera, PhD of CU are also collaborating on an osteosarcoma project. Their work centers around studying a novel enzyme inhibitor – CHD1L (Chromodomain Helicase DNA-binding protein 1-Like).

The study seeks to understand how effective the CHD1L inhibitors are in both human and canine osteosarcoma cells. Preliminary work shows that these inhibitors can be effective against osteosarcoma cells in humans and canines, which means that targeted therapies may work for both species.

The team is determining dose responses in both human and canine cancer cells. They are also testing whether CHD1L can augment gene expression and/or sensitize osteosarcoma to cell death if combined with other drugs.

Companion Animals in the Face of a Cancer Diagnosis
Jennifer Currin-McCulloch, PhD, LSW, assistant professor of social work at CSU, and Lori Kogan, PhD, professor of clinical sciences at CSU have partnered with Linda Cook, PhD, associate director for population sciences in the CU Cancer Center, to look at the convergence of companion animals in the case of a human breast cancer diagnosis.

The group is studying both the benefits breast cancer survivors gain from companion animals, as well as the pet-care stressors owners face when undergoing treatment. The group has also created a directory of resources and services for the care of companion animals for breast cancer patients.

The team notes that while there is ample research regarding breast cancer support, very little has been done in regard to companion animals. They hope to identify ways that healthcare providers can include pets as part of the resources offered to patients.

Each institution contributed equally to the funding for these projects. We are grateful for the support of 174 donors who gave generously to the FACC research fund in 2022 to make this collaborative program possible.

Watch this video to learn more about each project and hear from the Principal Investigators:

It’s only through collaboration that we can hope to conquer cancer. We are honored to be partnering with the CU Cancer Center team.