13 July 2016

HEALTH - Canine Cancer Treatment With "Mind-blowing" Results

Imagine scientists being able to unleash a dog's own immune system to attack cancer.

Then imagine the potentially life-saving treatment, (which would allow cancer-stricken canines to avoid more conventional side-effects of chemotherapy,) being downright affordable.

It's much more than a pipe-dream for Melbourne scientists behind a free clinical trial being conducted Down Under which is already proving to have what Dr. Noam Pik calls “mind-blowing” early results.

(Dr. Noam Pik, photo: Chris Eastman)
Pik, head of the veterinary division at West Melbourne biotechnology research group Biotempus, told the Herald Sun if the trial proves effective, the plan is to offer it as treatment to ailing canines within the next two years and “then continue to humans.”

Essentially, the treatment sees dogs take a pill to thwart cancer's bid to kill.

In the year-long trial being done at 20 vet clinics in Australia, dogs are given a single dose of chemotherapy, that's one tablet, designed to decimate T-Regulatory cells within the pooch's own immune system.

These cells suppress the cancer-fighting mechanism of the immune system's T-Effector cells.

Mere months into the trial, researchers say they have already seen several dogs with early signs of remission.

“If the T-Regulatory cells can be selectively killed, the T-Effector cells can get on with the job of eliminating cancer undisturbed,” Pik told the Herald Sun.

Part of reaching that goal has been accomplished by the team's discovery that a dog's immune system, which moves in cycles, can be mapped.

With that in mind, blood samples are taken every second day allowing researchers to determine when suppressor cells are most vulnerable and then delivering chemotherapy at the optimal juncture.

Not only are there promising results, so far, but the prospect of honing in on a cancer-fighting treatment which is affordable would make any cancer-fighting coups that much more accessible to pet owners trying to get help for their dogs.

Researchers say prohibitively high canine cancer treatment costs, which can run in the tens of thousands, could be dramatically reduced and severe chemotherapy side-effects, such as nausea, would not be associated to the low-dose tablet.

“If this works ... it will save animals from having to go through a lot of nasty chemo,” says Swan Street Veterinary and Wellness Centre’s Dr Kathryn Farquharson.

Pik and his partners, although buoyed by the potential research findings which could lead to a breakthrough in human treatment, are cautiously optimistic.

“The results have been very exciting but we want to remain skeptical. We’re trialling it over the next year — compiling data, publishing in scientific journals,” Pik says.

Dr. Maureen Cooper, a Melbourne veterinary oncologist, says the field of immunotherapy – using a patient's own immune system to combat cancer – has seen much progress in recent years and she she is anxious to see if Biotempus findings add to that wealth of knowledge.

“I believe that in order to improve outcomes in cancer patients, novel treatments and treatment approaches are needed,” Cooper told the Herald Sun.

“We now believe the contribution of the tumour micro-environment is immense and has been previously largely underestimated. Thus, we believe it is important to aim treatment at both the tumour itself and the tumour environment with the aim of achieving more effective and durable cancer treatments.”

Sadly, it seems the disease has taken a stronghold on Carol Veldhoven's eight-year-old dog, Jack.

When she learned a broken leg was in fact symptomatic of aggressive bone cancer, Veldhoven invested more than $10,000 towards vet care but stopped short of having Jack endure amputation or chemotherapy.

It might be too late for Jack, but because the dog is enrolled in the Biotempus clinical cancer trial held in January, he may leave behind quite the legacy – being part of ground-breaking research which will benefit dogs facing a similar plight in future.

“We’re not expecting anything,” Veldhoven told the Herald Sun. “It’s more about helping others down the line.”

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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