Gerald P Murphy masthead

Research Mission

To accelerate scientific progress in cancer biology and biology of aging to reach the goal of personalized cancer prevention

Cancer Biology

To find more effective ways to treat cancer, the Murphy Foundation is exploring the potential of a unique untapped resource — pet dogs. Dogs living in the same environment as humans frequently develop cancers that mimic the types, pathology, and lethality of cancers that affect humans, and the same modalities used to treat humans — surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy drugs — are used to treat pet dogs. Because the cancers are often refractory to currently available therapies, many pet owners are eager to enroll cancer-bearing dogs into scientifically rigorous, humanely conducted clinical trials.

The Foundation’s vision is to transform pet dogs into a highly relevant field laboratory to study cancer mechanisms and to develop novel cancer treatments. Currently, the path to discovery of new anticancer drugs relies upon artificially induced, poorly predictive rodent models. As a consequence, many drugs that cure rodent cancer fail to have significant treatment benefit in human clinical trials. Instead of using rodents, the Murphy Foundation is studying the naturally-occurring cancers of pet dogs — in particular prostate and bone cancers — to address critical questions regarding cancer treatment. The high translational potential of studying these naturally-occurring cancers increases further the likelihood that our efforts will lead to new breakthroughs in the treatment of human cancer.

This work is part of PATH to Progress®, a research program created by the Murphy Foundation to accelerate the discovery of new ways to treat or prevent life-threatening cancers affecting pets and people. Pet dogs with naturally-occurring cancers are enrolled in state-of-the art clinical trial to test new life-saving treatments that will ultimately lead to human application. In PATH to Progress, we are not inducing cancer in animals, but we are compassionately treating pet dogs from the same kinds of lethal cancers that affect people. We say: “We’re putting man’s best friend on the trail of a killer.”

Personalized Cancer Prevention Research

Prevention is a surprisingly new concept within the cancer research community. Although cardiologists have known for a long time that prevention of heart disease holds the key to saving many lives, it was not until October 2002 that a group of cancer scientists first gathered at a national conference on cancer prevention. Murphy Foundation scientists were there in 2002 and were recognized for their scientific contributions to advancing the frontiers of cancer prevention research.

An important challenge facing the field of cancer prevention is defining the ideal dose of cancer-fighting nutrients that will reduce the risk of cancer. The Murphy Foundation has used a unique approach to address this problem. We studied elderly beagle dogs to mimic the aging human prostate in order to define the dose of the trace mineral selenium that minimizes genetic damage within the prostate. Elderly dogs were studied because the influence of aging on prostate cancer development is similar in dogs and men — the only two species in which prostate cancer occurs naturally. Interestingly, the best DNA damage-sparing effect was observed in dogs treated with moderate doses of selenium, whereas dogs with the lowest and highest toenail selenium levels (a marker for dietary intake of this trace mineral) had more DNA damage in their prostates. In other words, when it comes to selenium and cancer protection, more is not necessarily better.

It follows from this new understanding that not all men will benefit from increasing their daily intake of selenium. We believe dogs can help determine the best dose of selenium and other dietary supplements, thereby saving many men from taking doses that are likely to be ineffective. The Foundation is now working to develop a simple test using toenails that will allow men to individualize and titrate their selenium intake to maximize prostate cancer protection.

The research described above is part of the Foundation’s program on research and education in cancer prevention called 2 Steps Ahead™. Whereas early detection of cancer through screening — such as the PSA blood test or mammography — keeps you one step ahead of a diagnosis of advanced cancer, cancer avoidance through prevention keeps you two steps ahead of lethal cancer. As part of the 2 Steps Ahead program, the Murphy Foundation participated as one of 400 sites in North America enrolling men in the largest prostate cancer prevention trial ever conducted — a 12 year study called SELECT. Also, the 2 Steps Ahead program increases awareness and advocacy for cancer prevention through education.

Aging Research

In addition to its pioneering work in cancer research, the Murphy Foundation is conducting research to better understand why we age. Investigators have shown that centenarians (people who live to 100 years) are able to delay the onset of major diseases compared to people with usual longevity. In a recently published report in the Journal of Gerontology, Murphy Foundation scientists have now shown for the first time that pet dogs with exceptional longevity are just like people — in fact, more than 50% of dogs that live to be “centenarians” avoid all major diseases until they are more than 100 years old in human equivalents!

As experts in studying pet dogs, the Murphy Foundation is well positioned to answer some of the key questions related to the factors that confer exceptional longevity. The importance of our approach is that, because of the compressed lifespan of dogs, we can study the aging process from middle age to exceptional longevity in 6-8 years rather than the 50 years required for human studies. We are particularly interested in evaluating whether antioxidant vitamins can slow down the rate of aging and prevent age-related diseases like arthritis and cancer.

The Foundation also has established a nationwide database of exceptionally old dogs (similar to the international database of humans greater than 110 years old that is maintained in Lyon, France) that will provide a unique resource for scientists interested in aging research. The Foundation’s aging research using pet dogs to uncover fresh clues to human aging is part of the PATH to Progress program.

PATH to Progress® and 2 Steps Ahead™ are trademarks of the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation.