Debbie Knapp’s story

Portrait of Debbie Knapp

Debbie Knapp, DVM, MS
Delores L. McCall Professor
Comparative Oncology
Veterinary Clinical Sciences

Cancer steals loved ones away — not only our family members and friends but our companion animals, too. Dr. Debbie Knapp wants to save both as co-director of the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Comparative Oncology program.

“In my job, I get to help the dogs’ families and learn something that helps people,” Knapp says. “That is a tremendously exciting thing to do.”

Consider, for instance, a particular kind of bladder cancer known as invasive transitional cell carcinoma (InvTCC), which kills more than 14,000 people and an estimated 20,000 dogs annually in the United States. Because canine and human versions of InvTCC have very similar cellular and molecular features, biologic behaviors and responses to therapy, breakthroughs in treating pets with InvTCC could benefit humans as well.

Most deaths from InvTCC are caused by tumors that can’t be removed. One of the new drugs that could offer hope is tubulysin B, but only if it can destroy cancer cells without damaging healthy ones in the process.

Knapp and her team are collaborating with Philip Low, Purdue’s Presidential Scholar for Drug Discovery and the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, whose laboratory has pioneered the use of folate in targeted cancer treatment. Certain cancers can take up much more folate than normal cells, and folate can guide drugs into cancer while not harming other organs. Knapp’s team is evaluating tubulysin paired with folate in dogs with naturally occurring InvTCC to see if the drug will attack the tumors with sufficient force while leaving healthy cells intact.

“We want to determine, ‘Does it work?’ ‘Is it safe?’ and ‘What dosages appear appropriate?’ to help guide the application in people,” Knapp says. While the work could set the stage for human clinical trials, Knapp also hopes to extend the lives of beloved pets.