The future is rich for bone cancer research, thanks to a new discovery by a team of UF veterinary researchers.
Dr. Valery Scharf and her team found a gold-based drug may slow the growth of osteosarcoma, or bone cancer tumors, in dogs and people.
Scharf said osteosarcoma develops when a group of bone cells become abnormal and start multiplying rapidly. It is typically treated either by surgically removing the tumor or using radiation therapy to kill the abnormal cells.
Although these methods treat the tumor locally, Scharf said they don’t stop the microscopic spread of the cancer cells to the lungs, which is the major issue with this type of disease. She said by the time the tumor is removed, cancer is usually already affecting the lungs.
“The life expectancy with those treatments is still often around a year in dogs,” she said. “So what we’re looking for are different medications that we can use to make that time period longer.”
The drug aurothiomalate, or gold salts, had previously shown positive results fighting lung cancer in humans. Scharf said her approach was to take this research and see if it would be effective in dogs and cats.
“A lot of the good chemotherapy drugs have had a metal molecule in them,” she said. “So that’s why people decided to start looking at gold and seeing if it had similar effects.”
Although it’s not shiny like gold, Scharf said the yellow compound has shown positive results slowing tumor growth both in petri dishes and in mice. Scharf said her team still has a lot of research to do before the drug can be used on animals or humans.
Larissa Menke, a 21-year-old UF marine science senior, said this discovery promotes “one health,” the idea that the same medicines can be used to treat animals and humans.
“That’s exactly what I want to do, applying it to humans as well,” she said. “It’s definitely becoming more common, which is a really important thing for world health.”
[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 4/2/2014 under the headline "Vet researchers find gold may help bone cancer treatment"]