“Veterinarians don’t think or ask questions the same way as human doctors,” says Chand Khanna, DVM, PhD, a senior scientist at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research.
“I truly think we’re on the cusp of where we imagine cancer in a different way.”
“When I was pursuing my PhD at the medical school of the University of Minnesota, I learned that veterinarians think differently from others in the bio-medical profession,” Khanna explains. “Veterinarians are comfortable moving between different systems and species...I realized this could be a competitive advantage for veterinarians who wanted a career in biomedical research.”
Dr. Khanna applied this unique perspective when he first joined the NCI.
“My initial focus was on a disease called osteosarcoma, a bone cancer common in children. It’s very similar to a cancer that I see and treat in pet animals, mostly dogs.”
Dr. Chand Khanna with Bogie,
one of his patients
Khanna is head of the NCI’s Comparative Oncology Program in Bethesda, Md. Working with 17 veterinary schools across the country, his team of physicians, veterinarians, and biomedical researchers offer cutting-edge therapeutics to treat pet cats and dogs suffering from cancer.
Historically, treating cancer in pets evolved from knowledge learned from treating humans. Dr. Khanna’s comparative oncology program essentially reverses this process.
“We help the pet animal who is being treated today and, hopefully, a child with the same disease some time in the future.”
Khanna emphasizes that his research does not harm or infect any animals.
“We’re managing cancers in pets that have already developed the disease and aren’t responding to conventional treatments. These pets don’t have other options,” he says.
Khanna also manages a laboratory at the NCI focusing on metastasis, or how cancer spreads throughout the body.
But he isn’t a stereotypic “ivory tower” researcher with his eye glued to a microscope. Khanna continues to be a practicing veterinarian, spending two days each week at a clinic in Washington, D.C.
“There are no approved drugs to treat dogs with cancer,” he says. “The drugs we use in our clinic are all approved for human use.”
But with 12 million pet dogs and cats being diagnosed with cancer every year, Khanna is seeing significant improvement in the standards of care and says that more change is on the way.
“This is an exciting time for us,” he adds. “I truly think we’re on the cusp of where we imagine cancer in a different way. Until today, veterinarians have only been able to control or manage cancer in pets. But I believe we’ll soon be able to start using the term ‘cure.’”
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 3, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.