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Dogs are our new allies in bone cancer research

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Rodrigo Cokting
Staff writer

Saturday, March 1, 2014, 12:50 PM -

Imagine using pets to find a cure for cancer, or any other disease. That’s what researchers and doctors are doing at Penn vet in Philadelphia.

Treating pets with new drugs and vaccines, they can use the information to design more effective treatments for humans.

Aspen has osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that up until now had a very poor outcome for patients. Despite limb amputation and chemotherapy, 60% of dogs with osteosarcoma died within 10 months of diagnosis.

Aspen is lucky. His owners have volunteered him to be a part of a bone-cancer vaccine study at Penn vet. It has shown great promise in attacking the aggressive tumor.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate that it is effective in preventing osteosarcoma from coming back,” said Dr. Nicola Mason from the University Of Penn School Of Veterinary Medicine.

Results have been impressive. In the first five furry patients who were vaccinated over a year ago, four are still alive and tumor free. There have been no complications.

“So far, we’ve found that the vaccine appears to be very safe,” said Dr. Mason.

What’s even more interesting; the vaccine was not originally designed for animals.

“It was designed for humans, in fact the gene we were targeting was expressed in human breast cancer,” said Yvonne Paterson.

The genes were similar to canine osteosarcoma. So Dr. Mason asked to test the vaccine on dogs first. By looking at the canine data researchers hope to design a safe vaccine not only for dogs but one that can help children with osteosarcoma and adults with other deadly tumors, including advanced breast cancer.



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Neurotoxins can relieve some of the pain

In earlier research also out of the University of Pennsylvania, Veterinarians Dorothy Cimino Brown and Kimberly Agnello found that a single injection of a neurotoxin provided relief to dogs suffering from bone cancer.

Because of the similarities between canine and human bone cancer, research suggests a similar approach could be taken in human care.

"Dogs are a really good model for testing these kinds of drugs, so showing that it worked in dogs provides strong evidence that it could be safe and effective in people too," Brown said.

To evaluate the pain-relieving effectiveness, researchers monitored the dogs to track level of activity. Owners were also asked to fill out a questionnaires about their dog's comfort level at home.

While the neurotoxin is not able to cure the bone cancer, it does increase their longevity by providing a better quality of life.

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