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Contagious cancer in dogs confirmed; origins traced to wolves centuries ago

This press release is also available in German.

A new study in the August 11, 2006 issue of the journal Cell provides evidence that a form of cancer afflicting dogs has spread from one individual to another by the transmission of the tumor cells themselves. The disease demonstrates how a cancer cell can become a successful parasite with a worldwide distribution, according to the researchers.

The findings may have broad implications for conservation biology and for scientists' understanding of cancer progression, the researchers said.

Robin Weiss of University College London and his colleagues traced the origin of so-called canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT) to a single clone. They estimated that the parasitic cancer arose at least 200 years ago in either a wolf or a closely related ancient dog breed. That makes the tumors the oldest cancer known to science, and possibly the longest continually propagated mammalian cell lineage in the world.

"Our results, based on several independent genetic markers in tumor-bearing dogs living on five continents, show that CTVT arose from a common ancestral cancer cell," Weiss said. "The cancer escaped its original body and became a parasite transmitted from dog to bitch and bitch to dog until it had colonized all over the world." Early in its evolution, the clone diverged into two separate lineages, each of which now has a broad geographic range, he added.

CTVT, also known as Sticker's sarcoma, is apparently transmitted among dogs through sexual contact but may also spread through licking, biting, and sniffing tumor-affected areas, the researchers said. Earlier studies found that the cancer could be transmitted only by experimental transplantation of living tumor cells, not by killed cells or cell filtrates. Scientists had also noticed similar chromosomal abnormalities in tumor sampl
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Contact: Heidi Hardman
hhardman@cell.com
617-397-2879
Cell Press
10-Aug-2006


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