Nearly every second domestic dog aged ten and older develops some form of cancer.
A few therapies derived from human medicine are available for dogs, but until now a successful form of therapy by which antibodies inhibit tumour growth has not been available for animals.
The scientists, from the Messerli Research Institute of the Vetmeduni Vienna, the Medical University of Vienna, and the University of Vienna, published their research data in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.
So-called cancer immunotherapy - where tumours are treated using antibodies - has been used very successfully in human medicine for about 20 years.
Josef Singer and Judith Fazekas, the lead authors of the study, discovered that a receptor frequently found on human tumour cells (epidermal growth factor receptor) is nearly 100 percent identical with the EGF receptor in dogs.
In human medicine EGFR is frequently used as the target of cancer immunotherapy because many cancer cells bear this receptor on their surface. The so-called anti-EGFR antibody binds to cancer cells and triggers the destruction of the cells.
"Due to the high similarity of the receptor in humans and dogs, this type of therapy should work well in dogs too," the scientists said.
"Vienna’s Veterinary Medical University will be the first centre in the world to offer the most modern immunological cancer diagnosis procedure for dogs… By using this approach, we will be able to initiate improvements that will benefit humans as well," said Professor Erika Jensen-Jarolim, the head of the study.
As in humans, cancers in dogs have complex causes. Environment, food, and genetic disposition are all known to play a role.