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Developing DNA tests to diagnose cancer in cats

Researcher hopes to help veterinarians identify deadly tumors

By Amy Ettinger

Every year, thousands of cats develop tumors that appear to be linked to routine vaccination and other injections. These injection site–associated sarcomas (ISASs) are typically more aggressive than sarcomas that occur spontaneously. In addition, ISASs often require more intensive treatment and show a higher risk of recurrence after surgical removal. For these reasons, accurate diagnosis of the tumor subtype can significantly affect the outcome for sarcoma patients.

With Morris Animal Foundation funding, researchers at North Carolina State University are developing a technique that will help veterinarians distinguish between ISASs and spontaneous sarcomas in cats. Success in distinguishing between these cancers would not only provide for more appropriate treatment and a better chance for a positive outcome but may also provide clues as to the underlying mechanism(s) for cancer development.

“In human medicine, knowledge of the pattern of chromosome abnormalities in tumors from different patients has led to sophisticated DNA-based methods for diagnosing cancer and determining optimal treatment strategies,” says Dr. Rachael Thomas, the lead researcher on the study.

But, so far, there have been very few DNA-based studies of feline cancer, and tests for determining optimal treatment strategies have yet to be developed. As such, Dr. Thomas’s study is breaking new ground. The researchers are using array comparative genomic hybridization technology to compare the patterns of chromosome abnormalities in ISASs with those of spontaneous feline sarcomas. This technology compares DNA from tumors to DNA from healthy cats and identifies regions that are duplicated or lost.

“Comparing the patterns of gains or losses of particular DNA fragments from different patients with either ISASs or spontaneous sarcomas will allow identification of abnormalities that are present in one subtype and not the other, which can therefore assist with diagnosis,” Dr. Thomas says.

Knowledge of these unique chromosomal abnormalities could provide a means to define which subtype of sarcoma a given patient has, and to do so at the early stages of the disease when it can be most appropriately treated.

“This may provide crucial information to help guide the owner and veterinarian as to the best approach to treatment and, in the longer term, help us to understand why these tumors occur,” Dr. Thomas says.

Posted by on August 19, 2011.

Categories: Animal health, Cancer, Veterinary research


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Submitted by white cat at: August 25, 2011
My neighbors cat died when he was only 6. His vet thought it was Cancer at the site of rabies vaccinations. I have 4 indoor cats and do not have them vaccinated against rabies. My two big boys died last year at 20 & 21 years old. I am pleased to see research in this area.
Submitted by wayne roberts at: August 24, 2011
Thank you for all your research for our 4 legged family members.