Oncologist targets cancer challenges

Dr. Arata Matsuyama. Photo: Cat Zens.

Growing up around dogs, cats, turtles and chickens at his family’s home in Japan, Dr. Arata Matsuyama (DVM, PhD) knew from a very early age that he wanted to work with animals in veterinary medicine.

But what wasn’t part of Matsuyama’s initial plan was devoting himself to studying cancer in companion animals — a decision that eventually brought him to Western Canada in 2022.

Last fall, Matsuyama joined the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) at the University of Saskatchewan as an assistant professor and veterinary medical oncologist. He’s now part of the veterinary oncology team based in the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre.

“The WCVM has a nice clinical research group that made me pretty excited to come here — to join a team that does clinical [work] and research work together,” he says.

As a university student, Matsuyama moved to Sapporo, a city located on the opposite side of Japan from his hometown — Ehime — to study veterinary medicine at Hokkaido University.

While earning his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, Matsuyama was more interested in clinical work than research. But research was a core component of undergraduate studies at Hokkaido University, and as a young university student, Matsuyama gained an appreciation for the world of academia.

He was inspired to pursue a career in cancer research when one of his professors, Dr. Kenji Hosoya, returned to Sapporo after completing veterinary medical and radiation oncology training at Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and earning board certification in the speciality areas.

“When he came back, Dr. Hosoya was just amazing. He knew all the evidence, his literature, and he was so experienced,” says Matsuyama. “So that made me realize: I want to study more in North America.”

After earning his veterinary degree in 2011, Matsuyama completed small animal rotating and surgery internships at Hokkaido University. He then decided to pursue specialized training by entering a combined medical oncology residency and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC). His wife, who is also a veterinarian, moved with him to Canada.

Matsuyama earned board certification with the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Diplomate, ACVIM-Medical Oncology) in 2018 and was subsequently board certified with the Asian College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Diplomate, AiCVIM-Medical Oncology) in 2020. One year later, he finished his PhD degree at OVC.

As part of his PhD program, Matsuyama investigated whether metronomic chemotherapy is effective in dogs. With this type of chemotherapy, clinicians give anti-cancer drugs at low doses over an extended time period to patients in order to cause fewer side effects. Results of Matsuyama’s research project ultimately showed that more work is needed to prove that metronomic chemotherapy is an effective treatment for dogs.

“Although that result wasn’t as good as we hoped initially, going through that research project experience and analyzing those clinical samples was a pretty interesting experience,” says Matsuyama, who is now part of two WCVM research projects supported by the WCVM’s Companion Animal Health Fund (CAHF).

One of the studies, for which Matsuyama is the principal investigator, is exploring the use of metoclopramide, an anti-nausea drug. Matsuyama is working with WCVM veterinary oncologist Dr. Valerie MacDonald-Dickinson and medical oncology resident Dr. Vivian Fan to determine if metoclopramide can prevent harmful, gastrointestinal-related side effects in dogs with lymphoma undergoing chemotherapy.

Matsuyama is also a co-investigator on another CAHF-funded project led by MacDonald-Dickinson. In this study, the WCVM researchers are studying the effects of carboplatin chemotherapy on dogs with cancer. Since cisplatin (a sister drug to carboplatin) is linked to kidney damage, the WCVM study will evaluate the latter drug to see if it could also be toxic to dogs’ kidneys.

This summer Matsuyama is supervising Eric Kim, a third-year WCVM veterinary student who is helping to collect tumour cells from animals in aid of further oncology research. The pair are also studying PET-CT (positron emission tomography-computed tomography) scans in dogs to determine if the specialized imaging technology can identify patterns associated with lung cancer spreading.

Matsuyama’s cancer research work doesn’t just benefit animals. Comparative oncology is the study of naturally developing cancers in animals as models for human disease, and on the USask campus, human medicine and veterinary medicine researchers are collaborating on several initiatives through the university’s Comparative Oncology Research Group.

With these new One Health connections, Matsuyama hopes his role as a veterinary medical oncologist will help contribute to human cancer research.

For instance, he points to sarcoma — a type of soft tissue cancer that’s common in dogs but rare in humans. In future research efforts, he hopes to use protein or gene assessment tools in dogs to find out why sarcoma cancers spread so aggressively and why they’re resistant to some chemotherapy drugs.

“In dogs, fortunately, a lot of clients are willing to contribute to research to help other animals, which I really appreciate. In humans, some patients or their families may be hesitant to donate a tumour to research for many reasons,” says Matsuyama. 

“We have easier access to [canine tumour samples], and they may be a good representative for human cancers …. What we find will of course help our patients — dogs and cats — but it might help in human patients. That’s what I’m hoping.”

It will soon be one year since Matsuyama joined the WCVM faculty, and during this time, the veterinary medical oncologist has appreciated the support of his colleagues and students.

“I’ve been very fortunate and happy to be here – joining the team,” says Matsuyama. “It’s been an amazing experience here.”

Cat Zens of North Battleford, Sask., is a fourth-year student in the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. She is working as a research communications intern at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) for summer 2023.


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