29 February 2016

RESEARCH - Cancer Trial With Canines Could Also Help Humans

(Evan Jost, Go Fund Me)
Evan Jost found the first clue of horror to come in 2015 when he noticed his dog had swollen lymph nodes.

Given the pair had been constant companions since the marine veteran returned from Iraq and brought the puppy home – the subsequent diagnosis that six-year-old Grayson had lymphoma and was expected to survive just a few weeks was devastating.

Their luck changed when Jost hooked up with UC Davis – which touts America's top-rated veterinary school of medicine and is home to a nationally designated comprehensive cancer facility where veterinarians and physicians team up to search for medical miracles.

“They told me about the clinical trials and it seemed really interesting,” Jost says. It also offered hope.

Grayson was enrolled in a trial of a new formulation of doxorubicin, a drug widely used to treat lymphoma and other cancers in humans, which can have toxic effects on the heart. A new formulation, developed at UC Davis, packages doxorubicin inside tiny particles to ideally carry the drug more directly to the tumor and reduce side effects on other tissues.

“We’re trying to create a formulation that will work better against cancer and be safer to give to our dogs, cats and people as well,” says Jenna Burton, who heads the trial and is a UC Davis assistant professor of clinical medical oncology.

“We really need better treatment options, not only for dogs, but also for people. While the cure rates are better in people, many people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma will die from their cancer or suffer long-term side effects secondary to the drugs used to treat it.”

While the lymphoma did not vanish, the beagle got better with four infusions putting the disease into remission.

Although in its early days, the new doxorubicin formula and its current trial will examine how well the micro-packaged drug is tolerated and could mean larger clinical trials with dogs and ultimately, humans.

It highlights just one case where studies in dogs might lead to findings for potential human treatments.

Experts at UC Davis have arranged some three-dozen clinical trials in dogs and because canines have a similar immune system to humans, it has made it possible for scientists, vets and physicians to build “a pipeline for cancer research,” says radiation oncology professor Arta Monjazeb.

“We can take our most exciting findings from basic research in mice and through the veterinary school translate them into clinical trials in pet dogs. That allows us to test therapies and weed out those that are not likely to be of benefit to our human patients and for the veterinarians, it gives them access to cutting-edge therapies that otherwise would not be available,” Monjazeb says.

“Most of what we practice in veterinary oncology comes from human medicine,” adds Michael Kent, professor of surgical and radiological sciences and director of the Centre for Companion Animal Health.
“Now dogs are going to help the other way and hopefully speed development of new treatments.”

Testing a new drug in human patients requires Food and Drug Administration approval – something not required for clinical trials in dogs which only go ahead with consent from owners and other safety and ethical safeguards in place.

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia Moharib is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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