Veterinarian Bridges Human And Pet Oncology

Dr. David Vail isn’t your typical dog, cat or even cow veterinarian, but the research he does may one day not only help your pet, but also your human family members. Dr Vail is a DVM at UW’s School of Veterinary Medicine and specializes in comparative oncology. He is a member of  the first-of-its-kind Canine Health And ReGistry Exchange Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) of oncologists and veterinarians.  Take C.H.A.R.G.E. will provide the veterinary community and dog owners with important data to help guide canine cancer diagnosis and treatment. But his research doesn’t stop there. He also works with the Carbone Cancer Center to help solve some of the mysteries in human cancer. 

Dr. Vail has spent 30 years as a clinical researcher in the field of comparative oncology. The comparative oncology field focuses on understanding cancer across all types of animals, while both helping to diagnose cancer earlier and developing new treatment. He says researching cancer in pets is an important part of helping to understand cancer across all species, including humans. As an example, often cancerous tumors in dogs develop faster and also respond or not respond to treatment more quickly than in humans. Using that knowledge can help doctors investigate treatment options in humans. Dr. Vail says that because cancer treatments focus on a mode of action often treatments that work in dogs for specific cancers also work in humans.

With comparative oncology research funding can often come from unexpected sources. Dr Vail says funding partnerships from groups such as the National Cancer Institute, the V Foundation or Veterans Association is only part of the story. There is also funding coming in from Morris Animal Foundation and the American Kennel Club. But the unique partnerships don’t stop at funding. Not only are there national organizations partnered up with veterinary schools, in Madison there is a comparative oncology working group that combines those from the animal side of the equation at the UW Veterinary School along side the human researchers at UW’s Carbone Cancer Center.

While research between dog and human cancer may not be a big surprise to many, having a veterinarian involved in human cancer care at the highest levels is unexpected. Dr Vail and human oncologists at Carbone Cancer Center present cutting edge research to one another. He is also a member of the “tumor board” a group that reviews pathology weekly from all of the tumors biopsied at both animal and human hospital, the group then develops treatment plans for their animal or human patients.

Over his 30 years as a clinical researcher, Dr Vail has seen tremendous leaps forward in the understanding and treatment of cancer and some of that can be traced back to agriculture research. He remembers early on that a fellow researcher at UW developed technology to alter genes in crops. He says that same technology was later used to deliver genetic therapies into pet dog cancer cells.