Texas A&M Research Examines Human, Canine Links Between Gliomas, Expanding Treatment, Research Possibilities

Dr. Beth Boudreau headshot
Dr. Beth Boudreau

Story by Margaret Preigh

Researchers at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) have been working for years to study the connection between canine and human gliomas.

In the most thorough examination of canine gliomas to date, the team—working in collaboration with the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Connecticut and the MD Anderson Cancer Center—has now identified similarities between canine and human gliomas that may also allow researchers to use the knowledge we have on human gliomas in the treatment and research of canine gliomas, and vice versa.

Dr. Beth Boudreau, an assistant professor of neurology at the CVM, and colleagues worked to examine the glioma cells at a molecular level, analyzing the genetic material of diseased tissues in humans and dogs to determine which genes are present and when, which genes are used, and how the cell regulates use of these genes.

What they found was that molecular similarities exist between canine gliomas and human pediatric gliomas that suggest the two diseases follow similar cancer-causing mutational processes.

The knowledge of how a diseased cell is operating at a genetic level also will allow researchers to better understand how to interrupt the disease processes of gliomas and develop new treatment options.

This study is the largest canine genomic dataset that’s been collected and analyzed,” Boudreau said. “The reason that’s important is that it gives us the best picture, at a genomic level, of how these tumors work and how they relate to similar human tumors.”

Canine gliomas are a form of cancer affecting the glial cells of the brain or spine of a dog. These tumors lack a distinct boundary between tumor and healthy tissue, which makes them notoriously difficult to remove surgically.

Gliomas are the second most common type of brain cancer in dogs and have a poor prognosis; with symptomatic therapy, the average survival time is just a few months.

Boudreau’s research aimed to create a molecular profile of canine glioma and compare this data to the molecular profiles of human pediatric and adult gliomas. The profiles included an analysis of which versions of genes are present and when, which genes are used, and how the cell regulates use of these genes.

“Overall, our goal was trying to figure out if we could leverage all of the information we know about human tumors to be able to treat our dogs better,” Boudreau said.

The study found that canine gliomas and human pediatric gliomas share alterations to multiple cell pathways, genes, and pieces of cellular machinery. These and other similarities suggest that both canine gliomas and human pediatric gliomas might have similar cancer-causing alterations and similar timelines of when these cancer-causing alterations occur.

“We’re trying to figure out what cells are there and what they are doing,” Boudreau said. “Are they active or inactive? How many of them are there? When did they go there? What called them? That’s the information that we need to design a sensible clinical trial.”

The study, published in Cancer Cell, was also co-authored by CVM faculty Dr. Brian Porter and Dr. Jonathan Levine, as well as collaborators from the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine.

This further knowledge of the nature of canine gliomas is not only a step toward developing new treatments for these cancers in dogs, but may also allow clinicians to apply knowledge of human pediatric gliomas to the treatment and research of canine gliomas, and vice versa.

Boudreau is optimistic that this expansion of applicable knowledge will be useful in improving the prognosis of affected dogs.

“To me, the most important thing is to try to find a way to make this information into something that helps us treat these tumors better in dogs,” she said.

This project is part of a larger collaboration between the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center and the CVM. Though this project has culminated to a published paper, other ongoing studies at the CVM continue to investigate the molecular basis of cancers in hopes of gaining knowledge and creating new and better treatment options.

“The future of MD Anderson working with Texas A&M to do comparative genomic research between dogs and people is absolutely not done,” Boudreau said. “This research is very modular; there are so many other tumor types that we could apply this strategy to. I’m really excited for the future.”

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Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216