Researcher sheds light on translational research in canine cancer at National Academies workshop | VTX


In December, Audrey Ruple, associate professor of quantitative epidemiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, spoke to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as part of their workshop titled “The Role of Companion Animals as Sentinels for Predicting the effects of environmental exposure on aging and cancer susceptibility in humans.

The mission of the National Academies is to research and advise the United States government on matters of national importance. At the height of the Civil War in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Incorporation which created the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 and the Institute of Medicine was established in 1970, becoming the National Academy of Medicine in 2015.

The academies operate as a private, nonprofit organization funded primarily by Congress and federal agencies through grants and contracts. More than 6,300 scientists, engineers and medical professionals now make up the academies, conducting research and producing reports that can influence policy.

Academies workshops bring together a group of scientists from all disciplines to discuss a central topic.

“It is a huge honor to be invited to speak. As a mid-career researcher, it is particularly exciting to have the potential to inform policy and funding for future research, Ruple said.

Ruple recently joined the college after seven years as an Assistant and Associate Professor of One Health Epidemiology at Purdue University. She earned her BS in Microbiology, MS in Epidemiology, and DVM from Colorado State University, where she also earned her Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology with a specialization in cancer biology.

Ruple conducts translational research, studying cancer in dogs to help us study cancer in humans. The academy invited her to speak about the environmental aspects of the risks associated with cancer and aging in dogs.

Dogs are good subjects for translational cancer research for a number of reasons. For one, they develop cancer about 10 times more often than humans. The cancers they develop are often cancers that humans develop, and dogs and humans share about 650 mega base pairs of shared genome. Additionally, dogs and humans share the same spaces, so environmental factors that affect dogs also affect humans.

“Most dogs now live inside houses. They sleep in our beds, drink our water, eat our table scraps. These are dogs that live in our environment — and all of our environmental contaminants and carcinogens,” Ruple said.

She pointed out that researchers identified factors such as pesticide exposure and exposure to second-hand smoke as cancer risks in dogs years before those risks were studied in humans.

During the workshop, Ruple discussed the state of science and what we know about environmental hazards, especially those that cause cancer.

Ruple drew on her previous work on how canine lymphoma overlaps with the incidence of human lymphoma and her work with the Dog Aging Project, on which she is a member of the research team. The Dog Aging Project is an ongoing study of 100,000 dogs to determine the biological and environmental components of dog aging. This is the largest cohort of dogs ever studied.

“By learning more about the impact of the environment on the biology of aging and cancer outcomes, we enable humans and dogs to live longer, healthier lives together,” Ruple said.

– Written by Sarah Boudreau MFA ’21, writer at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

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