There’s evidence that dogs have been keeping humans company since earliest times. They were probably the first animals to be domesticated and to share the human habitat. Dog-stories about loyalty and sacrifice proliferate throughout history. At present, in research labs around the world, dogs are providing most valuable insights into cancer research.

Timothy Fan, professor of veterinary clinical medicine at University of Illinois, says that physiological similarities between humans and dogs serve as useful models for studying new cancer treatments and drugs.

The American Kennel Club has funded 30 such studies in the past few years. Twenty top universities are collaborating in the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium to develop a better understanding of cancer in people through conducting clinical trials on dogs. The focus is on discovering faulty genes and molecules causing cancer, exploring how benign lumps turn into malignant tumours and spread, and testing new treatments to help the immune system fight the dreaded disease.

Cancer Research UK is hopeful. Thanks to decades of research, they say survival from cancer has now doubled, giving people the chance to have more time with their loved ones, and dogs have made a big contribution in this regard.

Clinical tests are conducted on pet dogs suffering from naturally occurring tumours, not lab-induced ones. There are already some drugs on the market that were initially tested on dogs, and many more in the pipeline. There are also studies focusing on spinal cord injuries, ageing and psychological disorders where treatment is being tested on dogs. So it may be that we owe our canine friends  in more ways than one.