When clients bring their dogs to the oncology service in the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital, they sometimes elect to enroll their pet in clinical trials that study cancer and new treatments. The data collected from those clinical trials provides information that may ultimately save both canine and human lives.

In once recent example, hospital researchers studied 64 dogs and found a link between high cholesterol and osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that behaves the same in both dogs and humans.

“This is one of the first steps into identifying cholesterol as a potential biomarker for canine osteosarcoma,” said Dr. Haley Leeper, Assistant Professor in veterinary oncology. “We don’t have answers as to why high cholesterol is associated with this disease, but we’re hoping to advance these findings in future research.”

Leeper and collaborators at OSU and Iowa State University compared 64 dogs with osteosarcoma against two control groups: 30 dogs that had suffered traumatic bone fractures and 31 healthy dogs similar in age and weight to the animals with cancer.

Researchers found nearly half of the dogs with cancer – 29 of the 64 – had elevated levels of total serum cholesterol, a dramatically higher rate than occurred in either control population; just three of the 30 dogs with broken bones, and only two of the 31 healthy animals, showed high cholesterol. An interesting twist: the dogs with elevated total cholesterol had a median survival time of 455 days, more than 200 days greater than the median survival time for dogs with normal cholesterol.

“When people think of cholesterol they think of cheeseburgers and heart attacks,” Leeper said. “However, cholesterol is involved with many key processes and structures in the body like cell membranes, bone health and the immune system.”

“There are a lot of things we plan on investigating,” she said. “This is exciting and fascinating, partly due to the comparative medical aspects between human research and our research.”

Collaborators in the study included Craig Ruaux and Shay Bracha, colleagues of Leeper in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and Austin Viall of the Department of Veterinary Pathology at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

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