Debunking previous theories, researchers at North Carolina State University say that having compared human and canine genomes, they have come to the conclusion that a gene commonly believed to be involved in meningiomas may not be as crucial for tumour formation as previously thought. Meningiomas are tumours which affect the meninges (thin covering) of the human brain, and account for one out of four adult brain tumours.
"The dog has been man's best friend for centuries, and now the genome of the dog could well be man's next best friend," says Dr. Matthew Breen, professor of genomics at NC State.
"With so much genetic material to consider, one can see why figuring out which genes play a key role in meningiomas is extremely difficult. By looking at tumors seen in both humans and dogs we have a simple way to narrow the search: we compare the affected areas of a human chromosome with related areas on dog chromosomes.
This works because dogs and humans are genetically similar and both get the same kinds of cancers. While we share much of our genetic material, the DNA of a dog is organized differently to our own and this makes it possible to isolate smaller 'shared' regions of genetic data rather than looking at an entire chromosome," he adds.
Breen, NC State colleagues Rachael Thomas and veterinary neurologist Natasha Olby, along with researchers from the University of California-Davis and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK shared samples of canine meningiomas for research.
Studies conducted in the past have suggested that a particular tumour-suppressing gene on human chromosome 22, known as NF2, may be a possible contributor to meningioma. It is believed that the deletion of NF2, with its tumour suppressing abilities, may trigger tumour growth.
However, when Breen's team compared human genome with its canine counterpart, they found that NF2 was rarely affected in dogs with meningioma.
Besides, the research team also looked at gliomas, another kind of brain tumour, and showed common genetic features shared between human and canine tumours that are now under further investigation.
"The data support that dog and human tumors are very similar at the genetic level, so both species will benefit from this research," Breen says.
"It's proof of the 'One Medicine' concept - the idea that human and animal health relies on a common pool of medical and scientific knowledge and is supported by overlapping technologies and discoveries," he adds.
A research article on the study has been published in the Journal of Neurooncology.