I fell in love with dogs the first time one surprised me with a lick of my face. I fell a little bit more after reading this book. Didn’t think that was possible.
“Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures” by Arlene Weintraub is an amazing journey into the science, art and imagination of cancer research. Most lives, unfortunately, do not remain untouched by cancer for very long. Mine is no exception, growing up with a mom on the front lines of the war, and eventually becoming one of its victims. Despite my familiarity with the topic, I had no idea that the field of “comparative oncology” even existed, let alone offered hope.
Heal explores the use of experimental drugs on pet dogs battling life-ending cancers. The clinical trials which use these dogs have a primary goal of extending the dog’s years, and greatly expanding their quality of life. These dogs and heroic families participate to help themselves, but also help others. The results that come from these trials have direct, measurable results in treating cancer in humans.
As it turns out, dogs are an ideal species to test treatment options, since they develop cancer naturally as people do, and many of their cancers are strikingly similar to ours. Rats, mice and other typical lab animals need to be altered to mimic the cancers we suffer from. In fact, nine out of ten drugs which show promise in lab rodents, do not help humans. Primates are not nearly as helpful either, as cancer is much rarer in these species. This field is also appropriately called “translational research”, since what is learned to help dogs, can be translated to greatly speed up the development of treatments for humans.
Weintraub also explores how medical science is channeling a dog’s ability to sniff-out early-stage cancer, leading to wonderful new detection devices. She makes complex medical issues easy to understand and covers a wide variety of cancers. In addition, she covers a wide range of cures being currently explored.
This book chronicles how veterinarians and oncologists are working together, leaving no stone unturned, in their search for a cure. It gave me hope and made me love our canine companions just a little bit more. Okay, a lot more. Since all treatments, therapies, trials and tests have a primary purpose of helping the dog, pet lovers will applaud this research. With the bonus of helping humans along the way, I think our canine friends would applaud it as well.