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Common tumour marker in humans and dogs presents possible opportunity for cancer treatment

(Vienna, 18 April 2011) In a recently-published cooperation study between the MedUni Vienna and the Vetmeduni Vienna (University of Veterinary Medicine), led by Erika Jensen-Jarolim, the similarity between breast cancer in dogs and humans was investigated from the perspective of the key tumour marker CEA (carcino-embryonic antigen). Since this is almost identical in both humans and canines, it may be possible to research new treatments for both species more quickly than normal.

Cancer, despite increasingly effective methods of diagnosis and treatment, is still one of the most common causes of death in humans. What is less commonly known is that this is also the case for pets such as dogs. It is estimated that around 4,000 dogs die each year in Austria from cancer. Fifty per cent of dogs over the age of ten die from a cancer that has similar biological characteristics to human tumours.

The CEA antigen is one of the most important tumour markers, since it occurs in very high concentrations in cases of cancer and may exert a signalling effect on tumour cells via a specific recipient molecule, the CEA receptor. The study shows that CEA has a very diverse structure, even in humans and animals, and represents a particularly inhomogeneous, complex system comprising multiple different families of molecules. In contrast to this, the CEA receptor has surprisingly been found to be almost identical in humans and dogs. Researchers explain this phenomenon by the fact that the molecule in question is one that is extremely old in evolutionary terms, and whose biological significance has remained virtually unchanged between the species investigated.

The questions to be answered now are: which soluble molecules in human breast cancer or mammary gland cancer in dogs are able to bind to this receptor and whether it might be possible to utilise this knowledge to develop new therapeutic approaches.
Study leader Jensen-Jarolim discussed the prospects for this: “Because dogs have a shorter life span than humans, accordingly the cycles complete more quickly. This means that the research will also yield results more quickly. By carrying out comparative research between the species, a field known as comparative medicine, it may be possible to develop new generations of diagnostic tools and therapeutic agents much more rapidly that can be used on both humans and animals.“

University Professor Dr. Erika Jensen-Jarolim is in charge of the Institute of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research (IPA) at the MedUni Vienna and is Deputy Chairman of the University Council of the Vetmeduni Vienna.

Publication in „PLOS Currents“:
PLOS Currents is a journal run by the Public Library of Science which communicates new research findings in particular topics. Under the topic of “The Tree of Life”, Marlene Weichselbaumer et al. have published an article entitled
» „Phylogenetic discordance of human and canine carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA, CEACAM) families, but striking identity of the CEA receptors will impact comparative oncology studies”
Weichselbaumer, Marlene; Willmann, Michael; Reifinger, Martin; Singer, Josef; Bajna, Erika; Sobanov, Yuriy; Mechtcherikova, Diana; Selzer, Edgar; Thalhammer, Johann G.; Kammerer, Robert; Jensen-Jarolim, Erika.
PLoS Currents: Tree of Life. 2011 March: PMC3059814.