It's a rare form of bone cancer in humans, but in dogs, osteosarcoma affects about 1 dog every hour of every day.* Right now, there aren't many options for those dogs. But a new study might change that. It's a medical study that's intended to help kids in the long run, but it just might save the life of a pet along the way.

When her dog "Skyler" first started limping, Cheryl Kefauver thought he'd just pulled a muscle. But things quickly got worse.

"In a week's time it went from looking normal and him kind of putting some weight on it, to he wouldn't put any weight on it and he had a big ol' knot," says Kefauver.

It turns out this 6 year old Great Pyrenees had bone cancer - very similar to the case of 6 year old Elizabeth Link. She lost part of her right arm to the disease, Skyler lost his left hind leg. And it's those types of similarities that have lead to a compelling new study.

"When we look at genes expressed in osteosarcoma cells in kids, they look very similar to the genes that are expressed in osteosarcoma in dogs. So we think the diseases are very, very similar," says Cheryl London, DVM, PhD at Ohio State University's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

That's why Dr. London is hoping to treat more dogs with cancer. If the diseases are similar, the cure might be too. She's testing a certain drug that affects the immune system, and needs to be monitored closely - something doctors can't easily do in humans.

"It requires getting a sample of tumor at the beginning of the study and a sample of tumor a week later. So we have to do multiple biopsies. And it's usually not feasible to do that sort of thing in children," says London.

But in dogs, it is. And whatever doctors might learn from them, they could someday apply to the treatment of children. Just another way, their owners say, that dogs are proving to be man's best friend.

"I just can't think of any other way to celebrate your pet's life than to let them help others," says Kefauver. Osteosarcoma usually affects larger breeds of dogs, and almost always results in amputation. In kids, it's highly curable if it's caught in time. Researchers hope this study will mean better and more treatment options for both.

*Treating Cancer in Dogs
American Veterinarian Medical Association
avma, retrieved June 2007

Ohio State University Medical Center

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