Scientific breakthrough on common cancer that affects horses and humans *H&H Plus*

  • The common cancer, that is found in horses and humans, results in equine euthanasia on welfare grounds in a ‘significant number of cases’, but it is believed the new knowledge will lead to a much better understanding and treatment. H&H finds out more...

    Scientists have made a breakthrough in understanding a common cancer that affects horses and humans.

    Squamous cell carcinoma affects horses’ eyes, the skin around the eyes, and genitalia. It leads to equine euthanasia on welfare grounds in a “significant number of cases”.

    The new study was led by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), King’s College London, the University of Edinburgh and University College London.

    It built on previous research, which showed how the cancer often becomes more biologically aggressive. This new study examined tissue and used state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to show a link between chronic inflammation, equine papillomavirus infection (of which warts are a sign) and progression of the cancer on the penis.

    Several additional cancer-related signalling molecules, which are important in researchers’ understanding of human penile cancer, were also studied and the results will lead to a much better understanding and treatment of the cancer.

    “Equine squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of cancer in horses, with a variable prognosis,” said RVC’s professor of veterinary anatomic pathology Simon Priestnall.

    “We are delighted to have made this breakthrough that provides a greater understanding and can lead to more effective treatments for horses and their owners.

    “This project shows what can be achieved when different organisations work together with a common aim and we hope the similarities between the tumour in horses and people can offer a true One Health benefit.”

    Lucy Grieve, a member of the British Equine Veterinary Association’s ethics and welfare committee, told H&H working in this way “gives scope for so much more to be achieved and the benefits to be felt as far and wide as possible.”

    “This is a perfect example of multiple centres of research having collaborated to achieve more, and even better they have discovered information that will help both horses and humans,” she said.

    “If horses and humans, both as patients and owners, can be given more help when suffering from these terrible types of tumours, then we stand a better chance of catching them early, offering more appropriate treatments, with the aim of a higher success rate overall.”

    She added that BEVA recognises the huge importance of co-operation between the medical fields and how research like this is only made possible by generous funding.

    Alejandro Suárez-Bonnet, lecturer in comparative pathology at the RVC, explained he is involved in further work with Professor Priestnall, leading a masters degree project investigating the cancer from a broader perspective, with funding from the Horse Racing Betting Levy.

    “I am so pleased with the results of this study, which will hopefully pave the way for improved prognosis of horses diagnosed with equine squamous cell carcinoma,” said Dr Suárez-Bonnet.

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