Archive for the ‘Cancer Research’ Category

National Canine Cancer Foundation to fund a new innovative Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) Research Project

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

I have some new exciting news. As you all know we are always trying to find an new edge in the battle against canine cancer. And Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is one of those cancers we would like to get a better handle on since it seems to end up being diagnosed too late to save the dog. In fact, we are so keen on finding out how to deal with HSA that we have actually initiated our own research project on HSA with G. Elizabeth Pluhar, D.V.M., Ph.D., and John Ohlfest, Ph.D. This is very exciting for the NCCF because this type of research on HSA has never been tried. Let me tell you how it all came about by first talking about a dog name Batman.

Batman was the first dog to undergo a breakthrough experimental treatment for brain cancer, led by doctors, G. Elizabeth Pluhar, D.V.M., Ph.D., and John Ohlfest, Ph.D. They developed a combination treatment plan for dogs with glioma, a very aggressive and relatively common form of brain cancer. First they removed the tumor surgically. Then, in some cases, they use local gene therapy to attract immune cells to destroy remaining tumor cells, and finally they created a personalized anti-cancer vaccine made from the dog’s own cancer cells to prevent tumor recurrence.

I personally love the thought of taking a cancer that was killing a dog and turning it into a personalized vaccine to kill the cancer!

Dr. Pluhar, a surgeon at the Veterinary Medical Center, and Dr. Ohlfest, head of the neurosurgery gene therapy program at the Masonic Cancer Center, gave Batman his initial treatment in August 2008. Batman led a normal life unaffected by his tumor until his death from cardiac failure in February 2010, there was no tumor recurrence. According to the Dean of the College, Trevor Ames, DVM, MS, “the far-reaching implications of this promising new treatment are almost difficult to fathom; not only could these treatments lead to a cure for brain and other systemic cancers in dogs, but because dogs and humans share many physiological traits, dogs could also be the missing link in the cure for brain cancer in humans.”

Then something interesting happened. Almost one year ago, Davis Hawn’s then 8-year-old yellow lab, Booster, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in his nasal sinus. Booster was given three weeks to live. Hawn did not want to accept the death sentence and began searching the country for a cure. His search led him to doctors in Florida who removed Booster’s tumor and gave him chemo. An online search then led him to Dr. Elizabeth Pluhar from the University of Minnesota’s canine brain tumor clinical program. Davis asked her to help his dog, but Dr. Pluhar had never made a vaccine for this type of cancer before. But Davis was not going to take no for an answer so she did agree to try. She shipped the vaccine off and ten months later Booster is cancer free.

Then after Davis contacted the NCCF to tell us about how well the vaccine works, we contacted Dr. Pluhar to ask if she would be willing to try the same research that was successful with brain cancer and skin cancer, and use the same protocol to try dealing with splenic HSA. The NCCF’s thinking is that with all these other cancers, the similarities were that the cancer had to be removed and a vaccine needed to be created from the cancer cells. With splenic HSA, one of the more common forms of HSA, the spleen is typically removed so we felt that Dr. Pluhar’s research could possibly work. With that in mind, we asked her if she could try and apply her protocol on splenic HSA. After doing some initial research she agreed to do the study based on reaching certain goals before going on to the next level.

First, she needs to insure that we can culture the cancer cells in the lab,

Second, she needs to insure that the tumor vaccines stimulate immune cells to attack tumor cells. If she can achieve these two steps she can go on to treat the HSA cancer. We could not be happier and are guardedly optimistic over this research project.

The cost for this project will be $55,500. I hope you are all as excited as we are about this research and will help fund the project. If you want to help with funding this new innovative NCCF’s initiated project please CLICK HERE or got to this link

Thank you

Gary D. Nice
President and Founder
National Canine Cancer Foundation

When Cancer in Dogs Isn't Just Bad Luck

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

While it’s true research has shown that a roll of the dice determines most cases of cancer, there is an area where the incidence of cancer is not a function of bad luck but of something more concrete: genetics. As a follow-up to my earlier article, I thought it would be useful to look at why this is so and to also consider that, if there is a silver lining here, it is that the predisposition for developing cancer among certain breeds may provide researchers with tools to better study cancer in dogs and ultimately in people.

American Golden Retrievers are more prone to hemangiosarcoma than U.K. Goldens. This suggests that the risk of the deadly tumor is related to a genetic alteration. (Image credit: Thinkstock)

A Closed Gene Pool

From a genetic standpoint, each breed of purebred dog is a closed, isolated population. Because a registered dog must have ancestors who were registered as well, no new genes enter a purebred dog population, except in extraordinary situations sanctioned by the breed registry. Every purebred dog is a relative, albeit a distant one, of the other dogs within that breed. Since most dogs are never bred but instead live out their lives as pets, the “doggie gene pool” remains relatively small. Selective breeding for each registry maintains the puppy face of the Bernese Mountain Dog, the mahogany coat color of the Hungarian Vizsla and the fluffy black fur of the Flat-Coated Retriever. However, genes that increase a dog’s risk of developing cancer also seem to have tagged along with the genes that control things like facial features, coat color and fur fluffiness. Those genes place these three breeds at the top of the list of dogs with an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer.

A Genetic Treasure Trove

If there is an upside to the limited genetic diversity of purebred dogs, it is their unsurpassed ability to elucidate the genetics behind various cancers and other hereditary diseases. Using the map of the canine genome and the extensive family trees from purebred dogs, the DNA of dogs with a high risk of developing a certain kind of cancer can be compared to dogs with a low risk of developing that type of cancer. The genetic differences identified are likely areas of the canine genome where the genes for increased cancer risk lie. Once the genes are identified, tests can be developed and used to help avoid breeding individual dogs with the “bad genes.” Right now, scientists are just at the point of identifying these genes.

In part, the common ancestry of dogs has perpetuated mutations that increase the risk of or directly cause cancer. Genetic analysis of wolves and dogs shows divergence of dogs from ancestral wolves around 11,000 to 16,000 years ago. Ancient Australian and African breeds, such as the Dingo and Basenji, became distinct about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, but most of the modern breeds of dogs, like Mastiffs and Herding dogs, are quite recent innovations in dog breeding, stemming only from Victorian times.

The Mastiff Group, which for genetic purposes here is different from the traditional Sporting, Working andHound Groups we see breeds organized into at dog shows, is a genetically determined grouping of related dogs. This Mastiff Group includes several genetically related dog breeds that have an increased risk of cancer. For example, Boxers are prone to mast cell tumors, Bernese Mountain Dogs to histiocytic sarcoma, Golden Retrievers to lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma, and Rottweilers to osteosarcoma. The exact genetic abnormality resulting in an increased risk of cancer in these and other predisposed breeds is still under intense investigation and supported by the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Canine Health Foundation and theMorris Animal Foundation, to name two of the major funding agencies behind this groundbreaking research.

The Golden Effect

Let’s take a look at just one popular breed to see how the genetics of cancer play out. The honey-coatedGolden Retriever, who originated in the United Kingdom, was recognized by the AKC in 1925 and ranks third in popularity among AKC registered breeds.

The large number of Golden Retrievers in the United States, plus their devoted families, has resulted in an active research community surrounding this beloved breed. That’s good, because Golden Retrievers are known to have a high risk of hemangiosarcoma, a deadly tumor found in several areas of the body including the spleen, liver and heart. When scientists study the DNA of Goldens diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma and compare it to other breeds of dogs diagnosed with the same disease, the genetic abnormalities are different. Interestingly, American Golden Retrievers differ from their U.K. counterparts: Goldens from the U.K. are largely spared this dreaded disease. When studied in a laboratory, the genes of American and U.K. Goldens are significantly different, suggesting that the risk of hemangiosarcoma is related to a relatively recent genetic alteration.

Lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) is another type of cancer commonly diagnosed in Golden Retrievers. The manifestation of lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma appears to be unrelated except for the frequent occurrence of both in Golden Retrievers. Now, through study of the canine genome, researchers have identified genetic alterations common to Goldens with either lymphoma or hemangiosarcoma. These alterations, or mutations, modify the regulation of the immune system’s surveillance for tumor cells, currently thought to be a common mechanism underlying the occurrence of these two dissimilar tumors in this breed.

Size and Color Play a Role

Though genes are important in the development of certain cancers, a single gene is unlikely to be the sole cause of cancer. For example, the genes controlling size appear to also play a role in the development of canine osteosarcoma, the most common form of bone cancer in dogs. Whippets and Greyhounds are physically very similar, with the Whippet being an apparently smaller version of the Greyhound. The similarity continues at the level of their DNA, and these two breeds are genetically very similar when their genes are compared in a laboratory. However, their risk of developing osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, is very different. This deadly tumor occurs commonly in Greyhounds but is rare in Whippets. In fact, it is uncommon in all dogs weighing less than 25 kilograms, suggesting that the genes controlling body size also play a role in the development of osteosarcoma in dogs.

Genes influencing coat color can also apparently play a role in cancer development. I have cared for a number of black Standard Poodles with multiple toes affected by nail bed (the skin at the base of the toe)squamous cell carcinoma, but never a white, brown or apricot poodle. Recently released data shows a genetic basis for my clinical observation. Standard Poodles diagnosed with nail bed squamous cell carcinoma have a variation in the number of copies of a gene known as KITLG. A similar number of light-coated Standard Poodles also have the same variation in the number of copies of the KITLG, but a simultaneous mutation in a different gene in the lighter-coated poodles apparently protects them from the cancer-promoting effects of the bad gene. Even more interesting is the finding of this same variation in the KITLG gene inBriards and Giant Schnauzers, two other black-coated breeds with an increased risk of developing nail bed squamous cell carcinoma.

What Can You Do?

When selecting a canine companion, it’s important to realize that any breed, as well as mixed-breed dogs, can and do get cancer – that’s where “bad luck” or other factors can come into play. And even if cancer isn’t listed as a health risk for a particular breed, that’s no guarantee a dog won’t get cancer.

But no matter which breed you are considering, do your homework before selecting the next addition to the family. Each recognized AKC breed has a breed club, and the Web page of the breed club typically includes information on the health issues for that breed. Talk to breeders before purchasing a puppy and ask how they are working with the breed club and the AKC to address the health concerns, including cancer, of their breed. Responsible breeders understand the health issues of their breed and support research to improve the breed. Be diligent about taking your dog for regular veterinary examinations and be aware of the early signs of cancer. Follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding all necessary screening tests and, finally, support research to improve the health of your breed through clinical trials and/or the donation of blood or tumor samples from your dog.

Even though cancer is not a topic anyone really wants to think about regarding his/her favorite furry companion, all this talk is very promising for the future of dogs. Because veterinary scientists continue to unravel the mysteries of cancer in dogs, we will soon have new and better methods of prevention, detection and treatment for these diseases.

Article reposted from:
By Dr. Ann Hohenhaus

Study reveals possible biological trigger for canine bone cancer

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) have identified the biological mechanism that may give some cancer cells the ability to form tumors in dogs.

The recent study uncovered an association between the increased expression of a particular gene in tumor cells and more aggressive behavior in a form of canine bone cancer. It may also have implications for human cancers by detailing a new pathway for tumor formation.

Photo: Nik Hawkins

The findings, published online this month in the journal Veterinary and Comparative Oncology, may eventually provide oncologists with another target for therapy and improve outcomes for canine patients with the disease.

The researchers examined cell lines generated from dogs with osteosarcoma, a common bone cancer that also affects people, with the intent of uncovering why only some cells generate tumors. After the dogs underwent tumor-removal surgery at UW Veterinary Care — the SVM’s veterinary medical teaching hospital — cells from the tumors were grown in the lab.

This led to six different cancer cell lines, which were then transplanted into mice. The researchers then looked to see which lines developed tumors and which did not and studied the differences between them.

“We found several hundred genes that expressed differently between the tumor-forming and nontumor-forming cell lines,” says Timothy Stein, an assistant professor of oncology. However, one protein called frizzled-6 was present at levels eight times higher in cells that formed tumors.

In the complicated process of gene expression, the genetic information encoded within DNA is eventually converted into RNA and proteins, which are responsible for a variety of vital cellular functions. Frizzled-6 plays a key role in relaying signals from the outside to the inside of a cell, acting as a sort of receiving dock for particular types of information.

Molecular connections like this activate pathways, some of which regulate the growth, differentiation and migration of cells when working properly. But when pathways go awry, they may contribute to the development of tumors and tumor-initiating cells. The role of frizzled-6 in this process is not yet fully understood.

“It’s exciting because it’s kind of uncharted territory,” says Stein, who is also a member of the UW Carbone Cancer Center. “While we need more research to know for sure, it’s possible that frizzled-6 expression may be inhibiting a particular signaling pathway and contributing to the formation of tumor-initiating cells.”

The study is a good example of how work at UW Veterinary Care can lead to a better understanding of disease, Stein says, and it highlights how basic science can be a bridge to clinical research.

Lucas Rodrigues, lead author on the canine bone cancer study, replaces a culture medium in which cancer cells are grown.

“Now I’d like to see what this means clinically,” he says. “Does frizzled-6 serve as a marker of a more aggressive disease? Will it help us improve the accuracy of our prognoses? These are the questions we want to answer.”

Stein also hopes to continue this line of research in human cancer patients. Meanwhile, the lead author on the study, Lucas Rodrigues, is continuing the investigation in dogs.

“Now we want to make sure that frizzled-6 is truly what gives these cells the ability to form new tumors,” says Rodrigues, a postdoctoral fellow in Stein’s lab.

While frizzled-6 may be the lone culprit, it is possible that a combination of multiple genes may lead to tumor formation, says Rodrigues.

The study was also co-authored by Victoria Thompson, an associate research specialist; Katie Holmes, a 2014 graduate of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program; and Michael Newton, a professor in the Departments of Statistics and Biostatistics and Medical Informatics.

Article reposted from:
By Nik Hawkins

Do Spayed and Neutered Dogs Get Cancer More Often?

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Where I live, in America, it’s taken for granted that responsible owners spay or neuter their dogs. The population of homeless animals is still large enough that risking an unwanted litter is, to many owners, unthinkable. And spay/neuter is just what people do. But two papers were published, in 2013 and 2014, suggesting that these widely accepted surgical procedures may lead to increased long-term risk of certain kinds of cancers. These studies ignited a debate which had been smouldering for years: are there unwanted health consequences associated with altering a dog’s levels of estrogen or testosterone?

Image Credit: Rob Kleine

The 2013 paper looked at Golden Retrievers. The authors reviewed data from veterinary hospitals, comparing Goldens who were diagnosed with various diseases, those who were not, and the spay/neuter status of each group; they found a correlation between spaying or neutering and cancers such as osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mast cell cancer. The 2014 paper used a voluntary Internet-based survey to perform a similar investigation in the Vizsla breed. They also found correlations between spay/neuter status and mast cell cancer, hemangiosarcoma, and lymphoma.

These are scary results, but I caution that studying the causes of multi-factorial diseases like cancer is incredibly challenging. Take the Golden Retriever study, a retrospective study using data from a veterinary referral hospital. This study was limited to dogs whose owners chose to bring them to a relatively expensive referral hospital. This is the kind of place where you take your pet when he has cancer and you are willing to spend a fair amount of money to help him. As a result, this hospital’s records probably provide a great source of data on companion animals living with concerned owners, particularly owners who have provided excellent medical care for much or all of the animal’s life. However, this hospital’s records are less likely to provide data on animals whose owners have provided sub-optimal care. This kind of bias in sample selection can have a significant effect on the findings drawn from the data.

The Vizsla study used an Internet-based survey instead of hospital records. Like the Golden Retriever study, this study could have found itself with a biased sample of very committed dog owners, in this case owners who engaged in dog-focused communities online and who had enough concern about the health of the breed to fill out a survey. This study additionally suffered from a lack of verified data; owners were asked to give medical details about their dogs and may have misremembered or misinterpreted a past diagnosis.

Don’t get me wrong – these were both important studies, and they did their best with the available resources. I applaud both sets of authors for putting this information out there. But the studies both have their limitations, which makes their findings difficult to trust or generalize to other populations of dogs.

Meanwhile, another 2013 study presented some other interesting results. This study drew data from multiple referral hospitals to determine the causes of death in spayed or neutered versus intact dogs – and they found that spayed and neutered dogs, on average, lived longer than intact dogs. Intact dogs were more likely to die of infectious disease or trauma, while spayed or neutered dogs were more likely to die of immune-mediated diseases or (again) cancer. In other words, while spayed or neutered dogs did get cancer, it didn’t seem to shorten their lifespans.

This study shed a new light on the cancer question. It suggested that perhaps spayed or neutered animals might be more likely to get cancer simply because they were living long enough to get it. Intact animals were more likely to die younger, perhaps simply not aging into the time of life when the risk of cancer rises.

So where does that leave us? Is there a causal link between spaying/neutering and cancer? I think the question is still wide open. What we really need is a study that follows animals forward throughout their lifetimes instead of using retrospective records or surveys to get the data – and, thanks to Morris Animal Foundation’s groundbreaking Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, we are getting just that. This study is enrolling Goldens as puppies and following their health over the course of their lives. It will be years before the study gives us answers, but it provides hope for more solid data. (Of course, it still can’t address the issue of bias, in that owners who enroll their puppies in this study could be highly responsible dog owners who provide excellent medical care!)

We can, however, do something about cancer in dogs without waiting for the results of that study. It is no coincidence that two of the studies discussed here investigated Golden Retrievers. Sixty percent of Golden Retrievers will die of cancer. That is indisputably a problem with the genetics of the breed, and other breeds suffer from similar problems. We should be attacking cancer on all fronts, and this is a front we don’t have to study first. Golden Retriever breeders are between a rock and a hard place, trying to breed for health in a gene pool which doesn’t have enough genetic diversity to support it. The solution is to bring in new blood from gene pools with much lower risk of cancer, breeding dogs who don’t look like purebred Goldens for a few generations to revitalize the breed as a whole. Genetics contribute far more to risk of cancer than whether an animal is spayed or neutered. We clearly have a strong desire as a society to reduce the incidence of cancer in Golden Retrievers and other breeds. While we’re studying risk from spaying and neutering, let’s address the genetics question that we know we can fix.

(The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.)

Article reposted from:
Jessica P. Hekman

Torres de la Riva G, Hart BL, Farver TB, et al. Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers. PLoS ONE 2013.
Zink MC, Farhoody P, Elser SE, et al. Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioral disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 2014;244:309–319. [Paywalled]
Hoffman JM, Creevy KE, Promislow DEL. Reproductive Capability Is Associated with Lifespan and Cause of Death in Companion Dogs. PLoS ONE 2013.

Phase II Study of Drug In Canine Lymphoma

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Oasmia Pharmaceutical AB announced today that the company has initiated a clinical Phase II study of Doxophos Vet for the treatment of canine lymphoma.

This study will be conducted at two clinics in the United States and Sweden, respectively. It includes five dose cycles of Doxophos Vet, which contains the active ingredient in doxorubicin, a commonly used chemotherapy drug in humans.

The primary endpoint is the response rate in the treated dogs after five cycles.

CEO of Oasmia said study is an important step for veterinarians

”The continued development of this unique pharmaceutical is an important step for us, and for all dog owners,” said Julian Aleksov, CEO of Oasmia. “It is also an important step for veterinarians, since Doxophos Vet will be a treatment for dogs evaluated on dogs.”

”With Doxophos Vet, we can have a pharmaceutical which is specialized for dogs with this very common type of cancer,” said Aleksov.

Currently there is no specialized veterinary treatment for canine lymphoma.

News reposted from:
By Ross Bonander
Source: Globe News Wire
Photo by Luke Ma

Dog's successful surgery sets stage for treating humans

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Almost five years ago, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever was operated on using a technique eventually patented by Virginia Tech biomedical engineering faculty member Rafael Davalos. The beloved family pet suffer from a cancerous mass in the brain, and all other forms of medical treatment had been exhausted. The operation eradicated the malignant tumor, and follow up examinations proved the procedure’s success.

The team’s findings were reported in the Feb. 14, 2011, issue of the Journal of Technology Cancer Research and Treatment, and, since the surgery, the investigators have continued experiments and mathematical modeling techniques that are leading toward effective treatments for humans with glioblastoma, the most common and deadly malignant brain tumor.

Today, the National Cancer Institute awarded one of Davalos’ colleagues, Scott Verbridge, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech, a $386,149 research grant to take a related medical procedure a step closer to using on humans. Verbridge will lead a team that includes Davalos and focus on targeting and destroying the most therapy-resistant infiltrative cells in malignant glioma.

Glioblastoma is the “most common and deadly malignant primary brain tumor, and it is almost universally fatal, with a five-year survival rate of less than 5 percent,” Verbridge said. “This statistic has not improved significantly in decades, and there is still no treatment option to preferentially target the glioma stem cells or diffuse infiltrative cells that lead to tumor recurrence after surgery, chemo, or radiotherapy.”

Davalos’ technique used on the canine patient is called irreversible electroporation. The investigators propose in the current project that these pulses can be tuned “to target the unique physical properties of malignant cells,” Verbridge said.

By contrast, chemotherapy and radiation used to reduce or eliminate cancerous cells are not discriminatory and also affect healthy cells.

Clinical trials using the irreversible electroporation procedure have occurred in the treatment of liver, kidney, pancreatic, and lung cancer.

“The procedure is essentially done with two minimally invasive electrodes placed into the targeted region, delivering approximately 80 pulses to the site in about one minute. The pulses are high voltage but low energy, so no significant heating occurs as a result of the procedure,” Davalos said.

Pulse duration is significant in this process. Earlier studies have demonstrated that length of the pulse accounts for the dead cell lesion size, and the current work will explore the impact of varying these parameters on the response of different cell types within gliomas.

In addition to researching the response of cell lines, experiments also will include patient-derived cells harvested by colleagues at the Wake Forest University and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Centers. The researchers plan to build three-dimensional in vitro tumors using these patient-derived cells. They then will characterize the response of the most highly aggressive tumor cell populations, in physiologically relevant tissue models, to these electric field therapies. Using live staining techniques and confocal microscopy, the researchers will be able to measure real-time responses of the cells to the irreversible electroporation.

“We believe our studies will provide a significant advancement in our understanding of glioma biology and point to new treatment possibilities,” said Verbridge, who conducted postdoctoral research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Cornell University Physical Sciences in Oncology Center. Verbridge also is a principal investigator on an additional NIH-funded project investigating glioma transcriptional dynamics, in collaboration with Chang Lu of Virginia Tech’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

Article reposted from:
By Lynn A Nystrom
Provided by Virginia Tech

Groundbreaking study aims to unravel canine cancer mystery

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

It’s estimated one in three dogs will get cancer in its lifetime, according to the Canine Cancer Foundation. But veterinarians say the percentage can be even higher in some breeds, like Golden Retrievers. Experts are hoping to change that, and possibly uncover clues about cancer in humans, too.

Lisa DeBurle and her husband are raising their third Golden Retriever, named Luna. They know the odds are against them.

“With two-thirds of Goldens dying from cancer, there’s a very good chance we’ll lose her to that,” DeBurle said.

Cancer claimed the couple’s first two Golden Retrievers, Sasha and Riley, only years apart. DeBurle says she agonized over getting Luna.

“We don’t have kids,” DeBurle said. “The dogs were our family.”

In the end, they decided to try again. Only this time, the couple also wanted to help others.

On the advice of Green Lake veterinarian Dr. Jeb Mortimer, Luna was enrolled in the Morris Animal Foundation’s “Canine Lifetime Health Project,” based in Denver.

“It’s mega-data,” Dr. Mortimer said. “They’re basically trying to figure out environmental trends, genetic trends, and why this breed is faced with these diseases.”

The project is a first-of-its kind, intensive, long-term study of Golden Retrievers. The study will run up to 14 years, and needs 3,000 pure-bred Golden Retrievers. As of mid-November, there was space for 750 more.

Paperwork is heaviest for participating veterinarians like Dr. Mortimer. Information on each of Luna’s visits is documented and shared with the study. Her DNA is on file, and her blood drawn and tested at annual wellness visits.

“There’s a lot of monitoring and documentation, just to make sure it’s a true scientific study,” Dr. Mortimer said.

It’s a commitment for DeBurle, as well. She must ensure Luna is seen regularly for the rest of her life, and largely at her own expense. The study reimburses participants $75 a year to offset the cost of the annual checkup.

But the payoff could be big, and not just for Luna or Golden Retrievers.

“They’re hoping to use this [to understand] cancer in all dogs,” DeBurle said. “And then they have an even bigger dream of it effecting cancer research for humans.”

“The canine model has always been there for human health,” Dr. Mortimer said. “There are a lot of similarities, and we could learn a lot from each other.”

Article reposted from:
By Cayle Thompson

Scorpion Venom Can Help Save the Lives of Dogs with Cancer

Monday, December 15th, 2014

Not only can scorpion venom make us sick, but one forward whip of the creature’s tail delivers a sting that strikes like flame.

How ironic, then, that venom from a scorpion species known as the deathstalker is credited with prolonging the lives of a group of dogs, including three named Whiskey, Hot Rod and Browning.

At Washington State University, clinical trials of “tumor paint,” a product that lights up cancer cells, are proving beneficial in treating canines.

The re-engineered molecule found in the venom of the deathstalker scorpion latches onto malignant tumors, making the diseased tissue glow brightly and distinctly against normal tissues. Consequently, surgeons are better able to detect – and remove – cancerous cells while leaving healthy ones behind.

Saved a leg

Phase 1 of the trials involved administering tumor paint intravenously to 28 canine cancer patients prior to surgery, said William Dernell, professor and chair of WSU’s veterinary clinical sciences.

“These were people’s pets that had developed cancer spontaneously, not in a lab,” he said.

One of those pets was Browning, a then-10-year-old chocolate Lab who underwent surgery at WSU’s veterinary hospital to remove a large sarcoma on her leg. Using tumor paint and an infrared camera, the surgery team was able to remove the cancerous cells that glowed bright green – thereby sparing the leg from amputation, said Dernell, who oversees the clinical trials.

Browning, left, has returned to hunting, while Whiskey is chasing scorpions. (Photos by Valorie Wiss, WSU veterinary clinical sciences)

Browning, a hunting dog who lives with her owners in Spokane, was able to return to her outdoor activities.

“The fluorescent substance prefers tumor cells over normal cells, allowing us to define the borders of where a tumor begins and where it ends,” Dernell said. “We’re always hearing about some new compound that targets tumors. From what we’ve seen, this one really does.”

People, too

Pediatric oncologist Jim Olson developed and patented tumor paint at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as a way to help people, but also the pets they love, he said.

“Many animal tumors resemble those that arise in humans so it only makes sense for the two groups to reap the benefits that tumor paint can provide during cancer surgery,” he explained. “As WSU uses the technology to help dogs, the dogs provide information that’s applicable to human cancers.”

Four years ago, Olson launched the Seattle-based company Blaze Bioscience as a way to test and commercialize the technology. Not long afterward, he contacted Dernell about conducting clinical trials at WSU. The results were so promising that the second phase will include enrolled feline patients as well, said Dernell.

If that seems an impressive achievement for a compound whose main ingredient is found in the venomous stinger of a scorpion, then consider this: In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved tumor paint for study in human trials. The product will be used on an estimated 21 people diagnosed with brain or spine tumors, said Olson.

“I predict that in a decade or so, surgeons will look back and say, ‘I can’t believe we used to remove tumors by only using our eyes, fingers and experience,’” he said. “Those hidden deposits of 200 or so cancer cells? They won’t go undetected.”

Scorpions’ new admirers

They didn’t go undetected in Hot Rod, a 10-year-old pit-bull mix who had skin cancer nodules removed at WSU, or Whiskey, another pit-bull mix who underwent surgery for two large mammary carcinonomas nearly two years ago.

Whiskey remains cancer free, said owner Terry Dillon, who decided to enroll her in the clinical trials after he learned of her diagnosis.

“I was afraid I’d have to have her euthanized, but then they told me about this tumor paint and how it might increase the odds of getting all the cancer out. I said yes, absolutely yes, I’ll sign her up.”

Hot Rod poses with WSU veterinary surgeon William Dernell, who oversees the tumor paint clinical trials.

Dillon recently moved to Arizona to care for his aging mother. Whiskey, his caramel-colored dog with deep brown eyes, went with him. As if scorpion venom helping to prolong her life isn’t peculiar enough, now there’s another unusual twist to this story.

Under starlight in Dillon’s desert-landscape backyard, Whiskey chases and pounces on scorpions.

“I’ve even seen her draw them into her mouth. I don’t know how in the world she does it,” he said. “Or why.”

Article reposted from:
By Linda Weiford, WSU News

Signs of Cancer in Dogs and Cats

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Older dogs and cats are at high risk for developing cancer. In fact, estimates reveal that as many as 50% of pets die because of the disease. Early diagnosis is essential to effectively managing or curing cancer, so it is important that owners be aware of the common signs of the disease and understand some basic facts about cancer in dogs and cats.

Types of Cancer in Dogs and Cats

Cancer is usually classified in one of two ways:

  • By the organ that it affects – liver cancer, brain tumor, skin cancer, etc.
  • By the type of cell involved – hemangiosarcoma (a cancer of blood vessels), mast cell tumor, adenocarcinoma, etc.

Usually, both classifications are necessary to fully understand a pet’s condition because different types of cancer can affect the same organ yet have dissimilar clinical signs, prognoses, and treatment protocols. For example, two types of skin cancer may look different, be treated differently, and tend to have different outcomes.

Symptoms of Cancer in Dogs and Cats

Because there are so many different types of cancer, no one clinical sign is unique to the disease. Nevertheless, if a dog or cat develops any of the following symptoms, cancer is certainly a possibility, and the pet should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible:

  • Abnormal masses – Some types of cancer form discrete tumors or cause organ enlargement (e.g., lymph nodes) that can be seen or felt. Often, these masses will grow or change over time.
  • Persistent sores – Cancer affecting the skin or mucous membranes can look like a wound, but the lesion does not heal in a typical manner.
  • Weight loss and poor appetite – Cancer requires energy and other nutrients, which takes away from what is available to the rest of a pet’s body. Also, pets with cancer generally don’t feel good and may not eat as well as they normally do. Weight loss associated with cancer frequently involves both fat and muscle tissue.
  • Poor coat quality – Cancer can cause pets to stop grooming themselves and/or grow dry and brittle fur.
  • Unexplained bleeding or discharge – Cancer may cause blood vessels to rupture or be associated with secondary infections resulting in abnormal discharge from the mouth, nose, anus, genitals, or other body openings.
  • Abnormal odors – Cancer disrupts the body’s normal protective mechanisms that keep infection at bay, and most infections are associated with a foul odor.
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing – Cancer of the oral cavity or esophagus can make eating and swallowing difficult and/or painful.
  • Lethargy, weakness, or exercise intolerance – Cancer can make pets anemic (have low red blood cell counts), decrease energy levels, and adversely affect the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, pulmonary, nervous, and other body systems making animals unwilling or unable to be as active as normal.
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness – Cancer of the musculoskeletal or nervous system can adversely affect a pet’s gait.
  • Difficulty breathing and/or coughing – Cancer affecting the cardiovascular system or lungs often causes dogs and cats to cough and breathe rapidly or with greater effort than is normal.
  • Abnormal urination – Cancer of the urinary tract and other body systems can cause pets to strain to urinate, urinate a greater or lesser volume than normal, urinate more or less frequently than normal, or have blood in their urine.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea – Cancer can directly involve the gastrointestinal tract or alter the functioning of other organ systems resulting in an adverse effect on the gastrointestinal tract. In either case, pets may vomit and/or have diarrhea.
  • Constipation – Tumors that block the lower gastrointestinal track can cause pets to strain or be unable to defecate.
  • Chronic sneezing – Tumors of the nasal passages typically make dogs and cats to sneeze.
  • An enlargement or swelling of any body part – Tumors or abnormal fluid accumulations (e.g., blood in the abdomen) that develop as a result of cancer can cause parts of the body to enlarge.
  • Behavioral changes – Unexplained aggression, altered mentation, or other abnormal behaviors can be caused by a tumor in or around the brain, altered body chemistry caused by cancer elsewhere in the body, or pain.
  • Paleness or yellowing of the mucous membranes or skin – Cancer that results in bleeding, abnormal red blood cell destruction, poor red blood cell production, or liver disease can result in anemia or jaundice.

In most cases, pets with cancer will have more than one of the aforementioned symptoms. For example, a dog that is losing weight, is lethargic, is straining to urinate, and has blood in its urine is more likely to have cancer than is a dog that only has blood in its urine.

Diagnosing Cancer in Dogs and Cats

To definitively determine that cancer is responsible for a pet’s clinical signs and identify the type that is involved, a veterinarian will take a tissue sample from the abnormal area, either via a needle and syringe or through a surgical biopsy. Sometimes, the veterinarian can reach a diagnosis by looking at cells under the microscope in the clinic, but it is usually best to send the sample to a veterinary pathologist for a complete evaluation. Additional diagnostic tests including blood work, a urinalysis, x-rays, and ultrasounds may be necessary to rule out other diseases, find the cancer, determine how widespread or advanced the disease is, and plan appropriate treatment.

Treating Cancer in Dogs and Cats

In most cases, cancer can be successfully managed for a period of time and potentially even cured if it is caught early enough. Treatment options aimed directly against cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Symptomatic treatment is also important and can include pain control, nutritional intervention, antibiotics, anti-nausea medications, and more. A pet’s primary care veterinarian and/or a veterinary cancer specialist will design a treatment protocol specific to the patient’s condition and the owner’s wishes.

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Researchers Treat Canine Cancer, Likely to Advance Human Health

Friday, October 31st, 2014

A research team at Mississippi State’s College of Veterinary Medicine is working to better understand cancer in dogs, and the work also could advance knowledge of human cancer.

Their investigation began with only a tiny blood platelet, but quickly they discovered opportunities for growth and expanding the breadth of the research.

Chelsea McIntosh takes a blood sample from a patient with assistance from Sandra Bulla and Dr. Kari Lunsford. Scientists at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine are studying the role of platelets in diagnosing canine cancer. (Photo by MSU College of Veterinary Medicine/Tom Thompson)

“We have a lot to gain by looking at platelets and how they influence cancer and healing,” said Dr. Camillo Bulla. “A part of our research is looking at the platelet. The platelet is very small, but it gives us a large picture. We hope to be able to find a tumor much sooner by taking a series of blood samples to look at platelet contents.”

Bulla is an associate professor in the college’s pathobiology and population medicine department. He and Dr. Kari Lunsford, a colleague at the college, have formed the Comparative Angiogenesis Laboratory at the university to better understand this process and treat canine patients.

As he explained, cancers need the creation of new blood vessels, called angiogenesis, to survive and grow, and tumors are able to create new blood vessels as pathways to travel and spread. They also are looking at the way platelets interact with tumor cells as they attempt to spread to the area surrounding the tumor or metastasize to distant sites in the body.

Lunsford, an associate professor in the clinical sciences department, said, “We know that metastasizing tumor cells need platelets but it is not yet known what the platelets do for the migrating (metastasizing) tumor. This is one of the questions we hope to help answer.”

Lunsford said she and Bulla foresee a specific focus on patients undergoing cancer treatment.

“If treatments are successful and the cancer goes into remission, we would monitor the patient for a relapse of the disease by looking at its platelets,” Lunsford said. “This type of monitoring would be less invasive than taking biopsies and might also be an earlier indicator that the cancer is returning.”

According to Lunsford, platelets also carry information about tumors and metastasizing cancer cells, and the team hopes that by looking at specific proteins expressed in platelets (from a simple blood sample), they can identify new cancer earlier. Even more importantly, they want to identify when tumors are about to metastasize.

“Our lab has developed a new way to separate platelets from blood samples with far less contamination by other blood cells,” she said. “This new technique was developed by doctoral student Shauna Trichler, and is superior to any isolation technique previously used by researchers in human or veterinary medicine.”

Trichler, of West Linden, Tennessee, is in her first year of work on a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, as well as a doctor of philosophy degree in veterinary medical science.

Lunsford said the research “is already having an impact as researchers from around the country are contacting our lab for advice relating to platelet purification.” Development of the pure samples have enabled the MSU research team to become the first to characterize the canine platelet proteome, the full complement of proteins expressed in the platelet.

“Now that we know what the normal, healthy platelet contains, we can compare it to platelets from patients with cancer to identify which proteins might play a role in cancer metastasis,” Lunsford said. “These changes in platelet proteins may also one day be used as a simple blood test for the early detection of cancer or cancer metastasis.”

Bulla and Lunsford, along with their postdoctoral students, recently attended a special biomedical course at the Harvard Medical School. Only open to a select group of applicants, the visit provided the MSU researchers more opportunities to collaborate and further their studies.

“We really feel like we’ve stumbled into something with the role of the platelet in cancer progression,” Lunsford said. “Being with so many respected, experienced members of the biomedical field really helped us hone in more on what we want to find out about controlling cancer in animals and humans.

“This was an exceptional opportunity,” she continued. “One of the most impressive parts of the course is meeting one of the leaders in brain cancer research, Dr. Isaiah Fidler. While many of the course leaders have their Ph.D.’s and M.D.’s, Dr. Fidler has a veterinary degree.”

Based on what they learned at Harvard and their own work at MSU, the researchers said they feel there is a clear link between the disease in animals and humans. Their efforts also are part of the One Health Initiative, a current worldwide program to expand interdisciplinary collaborations and communications in all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment.

“That a DVM is part of leading the charge in brain tumor research helps reinforce and in some ways validate what we are doing here,” Lunsford said. “There is so much overlap in veterinary and human medical research. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity at the Harvard course. It has helped make our direction even more clear.”

Following their return from Harvard, Lunsford, Bulla and other team members began working to secure funding grants that will enable them to expand their research.

“In the hospital we often see patients who may have had tumors for long periods of time, tumors that were previously undiagnosed and did not present any problems,” Lunsford said. “When cancers metastasize and spread is when they become life threatening and debilitating. We want to better understand how to diagnose and control those initial tumors and eliminate the risk of metastasis.

“As veterinarians, we are focused on treating cancer in dogs and we get the bonus of also helping advance treatment of human cancers,” she observed.

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