Muhammed Murtaza

Credentials: MBBS, PhD

Position title: Associate Professor


1111 Highland Avenue,
WIMR West Wedge 2770,
Madison WI 53705

2770 WIMR (West Wedge)
Murtaza Lab


MBBS Aga Khan University Medical College
Medical Science, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge

Research Summary

Circulating tumor DNA; Detection, characterization, and management of cancer in dogs

Research Detail

With primary research focuses on circulating tumor DNA, the recent publication provided new insight into new areas of cancer research found in studies of naturally occurring canine cancers. Development and validation of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) analysis in pet dogs can help address diagnostic needs in veterinary as well as human oncology. Dogs have high incidence of naturally occurring spontaneous cancers, demonstrate molecular heterogeneity and clonal evolution during therapy, allow serial sampling of blood from the same individuals during the course of disease progression, and have relatively compressed intervals for disease progression amenable to longitudinal studies. Here, we present a feasibility study of ctDNA analysis performed in 48 dogs including healthy dogs and dogs with either benign splenic lesions or malignant splenic tumors (hemangiosarcoma) using shallow whole genome sequencing (sWGS) of cell-free DNA. To enable detection and quantification of ctDNA using sWGS, we adapted two informatic approaches and compared their performance for the canine genome. At the time of initial clinical presentation, mean ctDNA fraction in dogs with malignant splenic tumors was 11.2%, significantly higher than dogs with benign lesions (3.2%; p = 0.001). ctDNA fraction was 14.3% and 9.0% in dogs with metastatic and localized disease, respectively (p = 0.227). In dogs treated with surgical resection of malignant tumors, mean ctDNA fraction decreased from 11.0% prior to resection to 7.9% post-resection (p = 0.047 for comparison of paired samples). Our results demonstrate that ctDNA analysis is feasible in dogs with hemangiosarcoma using a cost-effective approach such as sWGS. Additional studies are needed to validate these findings, and determine the role of ctDNA to assess burden of disease and treatment response in dogs with cancer.

Additional studies focus on the detection, characterization, and management of cancer in dogs, showing that cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs, in part because many cases are identified at an advanced stage when clinical signs have developed, and prognosis is poor. Increased understanding of cancer as a disease of the genome has led to the introduction of liquid biopsy testing, allowing for detection of genomic alterations in cell-free DNA fragments in blood to facilitate earlier detection, characterization, and management of cancer through non-invasive means. Recent discoveries in the areas of genomics and oncology have provided a deeper understanding of the molecular origins and evolution of cancer, and of the “one health” similarities between humans and dogs that underlie the field of comparative oncology. These discoveries, combined with technological advances in DNA profiling, are shifting the paradigm for cancer diagnosis toward earlier detection with the goal of improving outcomes. Liquid biopsy testing has already revolutionized the way cancer is managed in human medicine – and it is poised to make a similar impact in veterinary medicine. Multiple clinical use cases for liquid biopsy are emerging, including screening, aid in diagnosis, targeted treatment selection, treatment response monitoring, minimal residual disease detection, and recurrence monitoring. This review article highlights key scientific advances in genomics and their relevance for veterinary oncology, with the goal of providing a foundational introduction to this important topic for veterinarians. As these technologies migrate from human medicine into veterinary medicine, improved awareness and understanding will facilitate their rapid adoption, for the benefit of veterinary patients.

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