Canines-N-Kids aims to end cancers kids and man’s best friend have in common
Photos Courtesy Canines-N-Kids
Children and dogs have a lot in common and a very special connection. As newborns, both are without question the cutest little things on the planet! You want to hold them, talk in silly voices to them, teach them new things, and most of all, give them every bit of your unconditional love. Unfortunately, their commonalities don’t end there. Each year in the United States, 16,000 children and six million dogs develop cancer – and both groups develop cancers that are similar in nature, including bone and brain cancers, leukemia and lymphoma.
Ulrike Szalay is on a mission to help both populations. She is the CEO and President of Canines-N-Kids, a non-profit organization she began with the sole goal to “crush cancer at both ends of the leash.” Szalay launched Canines-N-Kids (CNK) in 2017 after her tenure at a biotech company that was working on a cancer killing viral technology that targeted cancer cells without the toxicities of chemotherapies. After conducting clinical trials with the drug in both adult human and canine cancer patients, company researchers realized the approach might benefit both groups. Fascinated by these findings, Ulrike decided something had to be done to accelerate progress in both populations. But what?
Fighting the C-Word with the A-Team
Szalay began contacting both pediatric and veterinary oncologists in the United States and around the world. Through her hard work, contacts and history in the field, she assembled a stellar team of doctors and researchers committed to building comparative research on bone cancers, brain tumors, lymphoma and leukemia. She also established the organization’s highly regarded Paws for a Cure Research Symposium which identifies the most promising projects and encourages researchers to work together.
“We are looking at research that aligns basic data between shared childhood and canine cancers in order to better understand the genetics of those cancers and the fundamental biology of cancer development,” Szalay said. “We’re looking at how cancer spreads and comes back, as well as how tumors respond to new therapies and whether we can minimize the toxicity of treatments in our most vulnerable patients – two and four-legged.”
Playing With the Big Dogs
As you can imagine, an effort of this magnitude requires tremendous support to attract volunteers, donors, and partners to its cause. It is important to Szalay that the foundation perform not just top notch science but conduct fundraising programs people can connect with in their hearts.
Through creative, grassroots fundraising efforts that include an annual dog bowl challenge (where you and your pup race to clean your dog bowl – don’t worry, you don’t have to eat dog food or treats!), community dog washes, and more traditional fundraisers like marathons and golf tournaments, CNK has steadily increased its fundraising efforts. It has also built serious awareness of its mission. Today, the group has partnerships with such notables as the Petco Foundation, Blue Buffalo Foundation, the V Foundation, and national drug research and manufacturer Lilly.
“Love is at the center of everything we do.” Szalay said. “One of the really compelling parts of this is that when you work with children who are battling cancer and then you see a dog who is battling cancer, you see the common thread, they just want to get it over with and get back to playing. They don’t complain. This is so inspiring to me. The wisdom of children and dogs keeps me going every day.”
For more information, or to get involved with Canines-N-Kids, visit caninesnkids.org.
Comparative Research for the Win
Pediatric cancers are not like adult cancers. In fact, they’re about 90% different from adult cancers. And sadly, pediatric cancer research is grossly underfunded in this country. Need proof? In the last 40 years, there have been just four new cancer drugs developed for kids and their unique cancers.
Part of the problem lies in the number of patients clinical trials need to be conducted. Thankfully, there are only 500 to 800 children a year diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancer diagnosed in 50,000 dogs annually and one that is shared both biologically and genomically between canines and children. The larger number of pups with osteosarcoma means a greater number of clinical trials and critical discoveries that are helping both populations. It’s a true win-win and it’s spreading: today the same concept is advancing studies in aggressive brain tumors (glioblastoma) in kids and dogs, lymphoma and other cancers.
“You might not have thought about it before, but canines live parallel lives to their humans,” Szalay said. “They walk on the same floors in your house that are cleaned with the same cleaning products; they breathe in the same air; and sometimes, if they’ve been a good boy or girl, even eat the same food. It’s only natural that they might develop the same diseases.”