Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures
by Arlene Weintraub



ECW Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-770-41270-5.
Reviewed by Martha Meacham
Posted on 01/06/2016

Nonfiction: Animals; Nonfiction: Science

Cancers have become so prevalent that nearly everyone has been touched by the loss of a loved one, friend or beloved pet. A diagnosis of any sort of cancer still evokes intense feelings regardless of significant medical advances or treatments available.

Arlene Weintraub wrote Heal: The Vital Role of Dogs in the Search for Cancer Cures in response to the loss of her sister to gastric cancer. In the wake of her sister's death, she became preoccupied with unanswered questions. The result is this informative book about the latest in cancer research and dogs. Because of Ms. Weintraub's personal motivation in writing this book, we may all benefit from the knowledge she gained. Her writing about complex medical research is accessible and aided greatly by her background as a published science journalist.

The author brings to light several aspects of the field of comparative oncology and helps explain how clinical trials using pet dogs will reduce the need to use lab animals for medical research. Comparative oncology involves the use of experimental drugs that are actually designed to improve the lives of the animals. These valuable participants get top-of-the-line treatment while contributing to research that may lead to new cures for cancer. The Humane Society International supports comparative oncology for the reason that it aims to help the animals, unlike the drug testing protocols practiced in the past.

Innovation is sorely needed in a field that desperately needs advancements. Nine out of ten experimental drugs that cure lab rodents of their cancers fail in human trials. Studying cancer in primates is similarly restrictive since they are not as susceptible to cancer as humans. However, dogs develop cancers much like humans do. For many reasons pet dogs are perfect candidates to fill the void in medical research.

Arlene Weintraub writes: "I was surprised to learn that dogs get many of the same cancers we do, including lymphoma, melanoma, breast cancer, bone cancer, and gastric cancer. Texas A&M...was part of a rapidly expanding network of academic veterinary centers that recruit pets with cancer for 'translational' research—studies that have the potential to speed up the search for a cure for humans."

The author profiles the stories of some of the dogs and their people who contributed to the ground-breaking studies that began in 2001 at UC Davis. There is fascinating detail about the medical research of this period and the challenges of getting funding for new drugs and bringing them to market. At the end of the book there are numerous resources on various foundations for further information.

This book would appeal to people interested in the technical aspects of on-going cancer research both in humans and dogs. I was also drawn into the parts of the narrative that touched on the shared human feelings of love and loss due to these all too prevalent diseases. I was left wondering if the author would write a memoir giving an in-depth look at her own experiences that would no doubt have as much an impact as this book.

Read an excerpt from this book.


Arlene Weintraub has been writing about health care, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology professionally for 20 years. As senior health writer at BusinessWeek, she authored many articles that explored such topics. She also published Selling the Fountain of Youth: How the Anti-Aging industry Made a Disease Out of Getting Old—And Made Billions (Basic Books, August 2010. Visit her website.

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