2 Million Dogs – The Blog

Cancer. Touches. Everyone.

Contagious Dog Cancer Unraveled

Posted by Erich Trapp on January 21, 2011

A canine cancer is found to be able to repair itself by tapping the infected dogs’ own cells.
By Jennifer Viegas
Thu Jan 20, 2011 02:00 PM ET

Dogs can suffer from a contagious form of cancer that has the ability to repair itself at the expense of its canine victims, according to a new study.

The discovery could help to explain how this disease, Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumor (CTVT), has persisted in the dog population for around 10,000 years. Mating in dogs typically transmits the cancer, although it can also be spread when a healthy dog licks, bites or sniffs tumor-affected areas of a victim.

“It is possible that when dogs were first domesticated, they were highly inbred, and so different individuals were genetically very similar, and this might have helped cancerous cells from one dog to be able to grow on another.” study co-author Austin Burt told Discovery News.

“Then, as dogs were bred in many different directions and became genetically diverse, the cancer would have evolved to be able to grow on a diverse array of genotypes,” added Burt, a professor of evolutionary genetics at Imperial College London.

He and colleagues Clare Rebbeck and Armand Leroi analyzed the cellular structure of a geographically diverse sample of CTVT samples. They noticed that the cancer would sometimes acquire the “powerhouses,” or mitochondria, of host cells in order to repair itself in response to accumulated genetic mutations.

To determine if this was really the case, the scientists studied the evolutionary development of dogs and wolves. That investigation further supported their determination about the host-hijacking cancer. The research was published in this week’s Science

The disease is known to only spread from one canine to another, and “feral dogs — ones that run wild — are the ones most likely to come into contact with the cancer and carry it,” according to Burt.

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