Woman’s Best Friend | RMIT University

Woman’s Best Friend | RMIT University


Kristi Milley: Biobank is really just a fancy
way of saying a giant collection of tissue. So researchers have this wealth of tissue,
of cancer tissue, that they can use for their research. Using those veterinary connections
they submit samples to us when they have a tumour. We catalogue it, we keep all of the
details about the animal and their treatments, so that other researchers in the veterinary
community can come along and request samples for their own projects. It’s a long term resource
for comparative oncology research in Australia, and it’s the first one in Australia that’s
been set up. Janine Danks: Biobanks are quite well known
for human cancers, there’s quite a large one set up in Melbourne, so that collects tumours
from patients that are actually in hospital. We can’t operate that model because obviously
we have vets in rural areas so what we’ve done is set up a biobank that instead of being
a collection centre, with all the tumours collected in-house, Kristi set up a kit that
actually does that, so we get all the information, all our tumours are collected remotely, all
the pieces of tumour we need, and then it’s sent to RMIT. It’s deidentified so we might
have the dog’s breed and maybe its name, but we don’t have the owners’ names. Kristi: People come up with some uninspired
pet names, which is kind of sad. There’s a surprising amount of Rovers — I didn’t think
people actually called their dog Rover but they do, and I think the interesting thing
is that it doesn’t really matter what the breed of the dog is. From the samples we’ve
been getting, we have a really wide distribution of breeds that are still getting breast cancer. Janine: Dogs live in the same environment
as we do, they get tumours at the same age as humans, if you take into account dog years,
and they have the same risk factors — weight, all of those ones that humans have. Kristi: Canine mammary tumours are very prevalent
in Australia and they have a poor prognosis for animals, and that nobody here is really
using them as a research model so I think I decided on my project to find a way of using
this model that’s really appropriate for human breast cancer that also gives benefits to
dogs that suffer from the disease as well. Janine: Dog tumours are a good model for human
tumours – but if you ask a pathologist to look at a section of a dog tumour, then they
don’t look like human breast cancers. We’re trying to investigate how true that link is,
and at this stage it looks like dogs have more advanced disease than humans do. Kristi: Most of my focus at the moment centres
on two genes that we think are important in human breast cancer in it metastasising to
different organs, and so we’re hoping to use the dog breast cancers to look at these genes
and work out exactly what role they play in helping a cancer spread, because most women
who die from breast cancer die from it metastasising to different organs, in particular the bone. Janine: I think the biobank itself is going
to grow, because the vets that we have got are very committed — so there’s 150 of those
around Victoria. They’re really interested in what the results are. But I think the success
of what we have done is the fact that we’ve gone out, spoken to the vets, told them what
we’re doing, and we keep that up — we’ve got a newsletter, we’ve got a website, so
everything’s so that we can keep them involved, especially when all these vets are in rural
areas. Their only way of connection is a personal touch, or a telephone call, those sorts of
things, so it’s really important. Kristi: So having such an enthusiastic veterinary
community is great, because it’s not just for my project but for long term. So we’ve
now got a network of people that five, ten years down the track are still willing to
participate in our research so the amount of data that we can generate that we can help
dogs and humans with is amazing.

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