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August 19, 2013
By Carol Borchert
The development of individualized cancer therapies is at the cutting edge of cancer research today as biomedical scientists seek new and innovative ways to improve cancer treatment.
Researchers at the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University are making use of comparative oncology – animals with naturally occurring cancers as a model for human disease – to discover the individual attributes of animal cancer patients that make drugs work, or that make drugs toxic, or that simply make drugs ineffectual.
Dr. Daniel Gustafson is one scientist challenging current thinking in cancer medicine. In early August, he was named to the Shipley University Chair in Comparative Oncology for his groundbreaking research in pharmacology, which is helping cancer doctors determine better treatments for their patients.
What Gustafson and his team discover could have significant impacts on human cancer treatments, illuminating the concept of “One Health.” The One Health movement, endorsed by the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association, embraces the understanding that discoveries in animal health benefit human health, and vice versa.
“The focus of my research has always been to gain a greater understanding of why drugs work in some patients and not in others, and how we can improve on that,” said Gustafson, a professor of cancer pharmacology, director of research for the Flint Animal Cancer Center, and director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center Pharmacology Core, which is housed by Gustafson’s CSU laboratory at CSU.
“In cancer therapy, we walk a fine line between toxicity and efficacy. We want to improve efficacy and decrease toxicity to get better outcomes for our patients,” he said.
A $3 million gift from the Shipley Foundation created the Shipley University Chair in Comparative Oncology, and also provides research funding to support Gustafson’s studies in pharmacokinetics, meaning what the body does to the drug, and pharmacodynamics, or what the drug does to the body. Endowed chairs are a mechanism that allows donors to directly support the research of talented and innovative faculty members.
“The Shipley family has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the Flint Animal Cancer Center,” said Richard Shipley, president of the Shipley Foundation. “We are animal lovers, but particularly appreciate the potential translation of results to humans. We support CSU in part because of its demonstrated willingness not to be bound by the limitations of conventional techniques in treating cancers and other diseases.”
Gustafson is more than willing to push beyond today’s cancer treatments in an effort to improve therapies and patient outcomes. He collaborates closely with colleagues at the University of Colorado, where he was a faculty member prior to joining CSU. His lab employs computer modeling, biochemistry, and toxicology in its studies, and the research team is expanding its investigations of gene expression. This genetic information provides clues to drug sensitivities that will help veterinarians and human doctors improve cancer drug selection and effectiveness while reducing the risk of toxicity to patients.
“Are these the best drugs? Is that the right combination?” Gustafson said of questions at the center of his work. “We are starting to incorporate gene expression algorithms and looking at cell lines to see what is sensitive and what is resistant. We also are investigating these questions using gene signatures from human tumor panels and are finding that gene expression patterns derived from human cancer cells can predict canine cancer cell drug sensitivity. This will be a valuable tool for us as we move forward.”
Gustafson has an osteosarcoma investigation under way, funded by the Morris Animal Foundation, that looks at the ability of gene expression patterns from tumors to predict drug sensitivity. His laboratory is exploring a similar approach in relapsed canine lymphoma; this research is directly applicable to human medicine.
“The gift that created the Shipley Chair represents the Shipley family’s commitment to finding creative and groundbreaking tools to beat cancer,” said Dr. Rod Page, director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center. “Three generations of the Shipley family have shared and supported our vision that understanding the connections between cancer in people and cancer in pets collectively helps all species.”
In 2000, Charles and Lucia Shipley made a $1 million gift to establish the Shipley Natural Healing Center, and their foundation provided an additional $1.2 million to support its programs. Their gift to endow the Shipley University Chair at the Flint Animal Cancer Center has strengthened the center’s ability to attract some of the best and brightest cancer specialists.
“My parents were proud of their association with the Flint Animal Cancer Center, and they were happy to support the research being conducted under our family’s name,” Richard Shipley said of his parents. Charles Shipley died in 2004 and Lucia Shipley in 2010. “This chair provides a lasting memorial to their lifelong refusal to be satisfied with conventional measures to solve problems.”
Gustafson joined CSU in 2007, along with his wife, Dr. Dawn Duval, who also works for the Flint Animal Cancer Center, coming to Fort Collins from the University of Colorado’s School of Pharmacy. He received his Ph.D. in from the Cell and Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology Program at the University of Nevada, Reno, then did post-doctoral work in the CSU laboratories of Drs. Charles Waldren and Raymond Yang.
The Flint Animal Cancer Center evaluates 1,800 cancer patients annually from around the world and provides leading technologies in imaging, radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and pain management, as well as opportunities for clinical trial participation.
For more information about the center, visit www.csuanimalcancercenter.org. To support research in cancer, visit www.csuanimalcancercenter.org/ways-to-give, or call the Office of Advancement in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, (970) 491-0663.