Texas Children's Brain Tumor Research for Dogs Could Teach News Tricks for Treating Humans

Texas Children's. Stock photo of a young woman standing outdoors, holding and kissing a Corgi puppy on the head

In a pioneering study, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital and the Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (VMBS) uncovered extreme genetic similarities between brain tumors in humans and dogs. Published in the Acta Neuropathologica journal, the research could help uncover effective new treatments for both humans and canines.

Meningiomas are the most common type of brain tumor in both humans and dogs; researchers discovered that, by analyzing the RNA of the human versions of these tumors, they could be classified into three biologically distinct subtypes.

“Because RNA shows how a tumor’s genes activate, it allows researchers to accurately predict how a tumor will behave — whether it will be aggressive or if it’s going to respond to certain therapies,” said Jonathan Levine, a VMBS professor.

This gave researchers a new way to detect aggressive tumors. They launched a study of 62 tumors from 27 dog breeds, the largest-ever study of gene expression profiles of canine meningiomas. Surprisingly, they found that these tumors had similar genes to human ones. By building on previous research that identified different types of human meningiomas, this study provides a way to classify aggressive tumors in both humans and dogs.

“The discovery that naturally occurring canine tumors closely resemble their human counterparts opens numerous avenues for exploring the biology of these challenging tumors,” said Akash Patel, M.D., an associate professor of neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine and principal investigator at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute (Duncan NRI) at Texas Children’s Hospital. “It also provides opportunities for developing and studying novel treatments applicable to both humans and dogs.”

The research could change how brain tumors are treated in both humans and dogs. By understanding the genetic similarities, researchers hope to develop new treatments. This research also highlights the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to improving care outcomes; the research team involved in this breakthrough consists of neurosurgeons, pathologists, computational scientists, veterinary scientists and molecular biologists, who pooled their strengths to drive this research forward.