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Program gives rise to promising cancer researcher

Foundation fellow works toward new stem cell therapies

By Kelley Weir

Aric Frantz grew up on a farm with a lot of animals, so it’s easy to see why he would want to become a veterinarian. After receiving a degree in medical biology, Frantz worked as a lab technician in human medical research. However, after spending time working with veterinarians, Frantz decided a career helping animals would be more satisfying.

After entering the veterinary program at the University of Minnesota, he received a grant to participate in Morris Animal Foundation’s Veterinary Student Scholars (VSS) Program. Frantz’s VSS grant enabled him to study the use of stem cell lines to improve heart function in dogs with long-term heart conditions. This gave him the opportunity to combine his previous research experience with training in veterinary medicine.

Today, he is enrolled in a joint DVM/PhD program and recently received a fellowship grant from the Foundation. He is now conducting a study on canine cancer stem cells as part of his PhD work.

Cancer therapy for dogs has become more common, but treatment doesn’t always lead to long-term remission. A major reason for cancer reccurrence may be the inability of treatments, such as chemotherapy, to completely eradicate cancer stem cells, Frantz explains. Cancer stem cells are self-renewing, can spread to new areas of the body and can give rise to daughter cells, which then rapidly divide.

This means that leaving behind even one cancer stem cell after treatment can cause the cancer to return. Frantz is currently trying to develop therapeutic strategies that target cancer stem cells. He hopes his work will generate new, more effective treatment approaches that have fewer side effects for dogs with cancer.

For Frantz, this potential to find new and more effective treatments is his motivation to use his veterinary training to pursue a career in animal health research.

“When I started school for veterinary medicine, I had the feeling that doctors were able to help in almost any situation,” he says. “What I learned was that, despite amazing abilities to help many animals with many diseases, there are still a tremendous number of situations where better treatment options are desperately needed.” 

Frantz is one of the relatively few veterinary students who choose a research path, but he says that, for him, the need to improve care is very motivating.

The VSS Program at Morris Animal Foundation was created to get veterinary students involved in research early in their careers so they would consider entering this field where they are so critically needed. Applicants are nominated by their school’s dean of research, and grant recipients work on an animal health research project, typically during the summer months. 

Since the creation of the VSS Program in 2005, the Foundation has given more than 300 grants to veterinary student researchers from more than 60 different institutions and universities in 16 countries.

The Foundation’s VSS Program provided the valuable opportunity for Frantz to explore his interest in research. He says he has no doubt he would have completed his veterinary training and gone into private practice if it had not been for this opportunity.

“Many students come to truly appreciate the need for research, but opportunities to explore this interest are very rare,” he says. “Without support like Morris Animal Foundation’s VSS Program, the opportunity would simply not exist. Hopefully, this is an investment that will result in many new discoveries and help animals in any number of situations where there is an unmet need for care.”

Read more about the VSS Program.

Posted by MAFon July 11, 2011.

Categories: Animal studies, Canine cancer , Dog cancer


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Submitted by Linda Flaherty at: July 15, 2011
Having lost 5 dogs to cancer, I applaud him for taking this route in his life. I wish him well and truly hope his time and effort find him on the path to ending this horrible disease that has taken far too many beloved pets. Bless you and all the others who are researching to make a difference.
Submitted by Marcy and Roxy at: July 15, 2011
Living with canine cancer at our house... would so love to find a cure... thank you MAF for seeking a cure for this terrible disease.