The answer to cancer may be walking right beside us. – Dr. Page
The One Medicine for pets and people approach has guided Dr. Rodney Page’s career. After a lifetime of achievements, Page has announced his plans to retire as the longtime director of the Robert H. and Mary G. Flint Animal Cancer Center and the Stephen J. Withrow Presidential Chair in Oncology.
Page earned his D.V.M. from Colorado State in 1981. In 1984, he joined the faculty at North Carolina State University, where he helped establish one of the first comparative veterinary oncology programs in the country. Page worked alongside Dr. Don Thrall, a distinguished veterinary radiation oncologist and radiologist at NCSU, during his time in North Carolina. “The years that I worked with Rod Page at NCSU were some of the most enjoyable of my career,” Thrall said.
After 15 productive years in North Carolina, Page was the founding director of the Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research at Cornell University. In 2005, he was appointed Chair of the Department of Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.
In 2010, Page was named the second director of the FACC, following Dr. Stephen Withrow. “Simply put, this was the only job I’d leave Cornell for, and that’s because the FACC is the best place in the world. You can’t convince me otherwise,” Page said with a warm laugh.
“When Rod Page was my student and graduated from CSU in 1981, I knew he was ‘something special,’” Withrow said. “I followed his career from NYC to NC State to Cornell. Rod’s mother and I would call Rod when the weather in Ithaca, New York was bad – most days – and tell him the weather in Fort Collins was blue skies and warm. We eventually got his attention, and we were lucky enough to get him to agree to be the director of the FACC in 2010.”
When speaking about the rest of Page’s career, Thrall said, “His love of oncology and CSU brought him home to the Front Range where he has been an effective, productive, leader of the Flint Animal Cancer Center, clearly the pinnacle of veterinary oncology programs in the world.”
During his tenure, Page cemented the FACC’s reputation as a leader in the field of comparative oncology and helped millions of people and pets by valuing the study of cancer in companion animals as a model for improving human cancer outcomes.
“Dr. Page has continued the legacy of the FACC and expanded its international footprint during his 13-year tenure as director. Notably, under his tenure, FACC has sponsored two National Academy of Science workshops and witnessed extraordinarily successful philanthropic and grant-supported resource generation for FACC and CVMBS. This has allowed world-class research, teaching, clinical care, and outreach that has impacted both veterinary and human health. Dr. Page is also the recipient of many national awards including the Career Achievement Award in Canine Research from the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2019. He has provided thoughtful, innovative leadership for many facets of CVMBS operations. Dr. Page is the ultimate professional who interjects quick wit and laughter interspersed with his insightful direction. We thank Dr. Page for his years of service in all ways,” said Dr. Sue VandeWoude, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
He will always be known for his ‘One Medicine’ approach to cancer treatment – something he’s accomplished through collaboration and care. Page spent his time at the FACC developing relationships with other cancer researchers around the world, and building a team of the top researchers and clinicians in the field of veterinary oncology.
“The FACC has always been a powerhouse in the state of Colorado in teaching, research, clinical trials, outreach, and consultations. Page took the FACC and the entire discipline of comparative oncology to new heights with his emphasis on One Medicine and collaboration. He spearheaded relationships with the University of Colorado Cancer Center, the Morris Animal Foundation, the Jimmy V Foundation, the National Academy of Science, and the National Cancer Institute,” Withrow said.
“Page carefully stewarded our many FACC donors and friends to enhance all programs with integrity and vision. The FACC is a better place because of Dr. Rod Page. We wish him well in his retirement and, at the same time, will rely on his vision and wisdom as we move forward,” Withrow added.
Under Page’s leadership, the FACC doubled its number of clinicians and its operational budget. More significantly, he brought the comparative oncology work of the FACC to the national science scene. Page co-hosted two seminars at the National Academy of Medicine annual meetings. “The Role of Clinical Studies for Pets with Naturally Occurring Tumors in Translation Cancer Research” workshop was held in 2015 and is believed to be one of the first times that veterinarians and human oncologists recognized the value of comparative oncology. The second workshop, “Companion Animals as Sentinels for Predicting Environmental Exposure Effects on Aging and Cancer Susceptibility in Humans,” took place in 2021 and was attended by more than 2,000 researchers, doctors, and veterinarians to learn more about the role animals can play as bellwethers for human health.
Dr. Elaine Ostrander is chief and distinguished senior investigator of the Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute of NIH. She and Page have been colleagues in the field of comparative oncology for many years. “There are many of us in the field of comparative oncology that have benefitted from Rod’s leadership,” she said. “Rod has been really successful in helping our field understand that you shouldn’t think about dogs in one category and humans in another. Dogs are helping humans and he’s been able to get everyone to recognize that very effectively.”
“Rod is very generous with his time and leadership. He’s always put the science and the health of dogs and people first. His own goals come second. He’s done so much for this field by that alone,” she added.
Page was also the initial principal investigator of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study with the Morris Animal Foundation. This study is one of the largest canine studies in the U.S. with more than 3,000 participants. With the help of the pet owners and their vets, the study collects data about health, environmental factors, and disease progression to determine risk factors for this cancer-prone breed.
“I won’t forget the first time I met Dr. Rod Page,” said Bette Morris, trustee of the Mark & Bette Morris Family Foundation that supports the Morris Animal Foundation. “We were attending a Morris Animal Foundation meeting, and it happened that we were on a bus when Rod explained to me his concept for a large 3,000-dog longitudinal study.”
“Rod wrote the research protocol for what was to become the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study and was appointed principal investigator in 2010. The process of enrolling dogs, owners, and veterinarians began in 2012. It is now projected that the study will reach completion during this calendar year. It is because of the strength of Rod’s commitment and leadership that the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study has become a reality. It offers the opportunity to greatly expand our knowledge about the relationship between nutrition, environment, genetics, cancer, and other canine diseases.”
In the last decade, comparative oncology has exploded in the field of cancer research… for good reason. Comparative oncology, or the One Medicine approach, is the study of naturally occurring cancers in more than one species. With Dr. Page’s passion for this modality, comparative oncology work has flourished at the FACC.
“The best day in my career was when the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee confirmed the value of comparative oncology in their 2016 report based on our push for an appreciation of comparative oncology. The Senate noted that animals can provide answers to important questions about cancer and asked the FDA to address the use of companion animals in cancer research. This really paved the way for us to get the funding we needed to launch comparative oncology fully,” Page said.
With Page’s guidance, the FACC founded the One Cure program in 2012. One Cure funds groundbreaking trials for new cancer treatments and medications, as well as the trials team members who manage the program. These studies of companion dogs provide valuable information in our quest for understanding this disease. Through our One Cure clinical trials program, we’re finding better and less costly treatments, improved diagnostic tools, and even preventive interventions, which can benefit all cancer patients – dogs and humans alike.
“One Cure highlights the real possibility that the answer to cancer may be walking right beside us,” he added.
Page has worked tirelessly to help the general public understand the value of studying dogs as a model for better understanding and treating human cancer. In 2016, a documentary produced by Colorado State University and Rocky Mountain PBS called, “The Answer to Cancer May Be Walking Right Beside Us,” aired locally and then nationally. This feature was seen by thousands of people around the country, and it helped pave the way for comparative oncology to be valued by all.
COLORADO’S CANCER CENTER
Another hallmark of Page’s tenure has been facilitating our collaboration with leading cancer researchers around the world, especially the University of Colorado Cancer Center. “Collaboration is important now more than ever. Together with CU, we’re Colorado’s Cancer Center. It’s not us vs. them; we’re in this together, and together we’re making a difference,” Page said.
“The only thing that I want to be remembered for is that I loved dogs and cats. And people,” he said with a big smile. “And that the future of cancer research lies in comparative oncology. I’m proud to collaborate with organizations and researchers who understand this.”
THE FUTURE OF THE FACC
Page will officially retire June 30. Dr. Susan Lana has been named interim director and a national search will follow. “I’m proud to follow in the steps of Dr. Withrow and Dr. Page. The Flint Animal Cancer Center is stronger than ever, and I have great faith that we will continue to build on the legacies set by both of them. I thank Dr. Page for his leadership, and I look forward to what’s to come,” Lana said.
Under Lana’s leadership, the FACC will continue providing the compassionate pet cancer care we’re known for and all research initiatives will remain in place.
“I’m excited for the future of the FACC. We have real opportunities ahead of us and this group is in a position to make significant progress in the fight against cancer,” Page said. “None of this would have been possible without our supporters and the friends of the FACC. There are no words to describe my level of gratitude for your belief and trust in this team. To my team, our patients and their owners, and our donors, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
A formal retirement celebration for Page will follow later this year.