Veterinary researchers in Colorado are trying to come up with a new method of treating a form of canine cancer.
If they are successful, the method could hold promise for humans, as well.
Cancer accounts for almost half of the deaths of pets over 10 years of age, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reports that 60 percent of all dogs over age 6 will get cancer during their lifetime.
Dr. Robyn Elmslie, a veterinary oncologist with Veterinary Cancer Specialists, located at the VRCC Specialty and Emergency Hospital in Englewood, is leading a study to evaluate a new vaccine approach for treatment of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in dogs.
She is working with her husband, Dr. Steve Dow, a veterinary immunologist at the Colorado State University veterinary school in Fort Collins.
Dr. Elmslie says that her goal is to find new approaches to treating pet cancers that go beyond the usual chemotherapy treatments.
While new vaccines for lymphoma are showing promise, the clinical results are slow to come. The new study will treat 20 patients total, with the goal of determining whether a new immune boosting technology can make existing cancer vaccines more effective.
Elmslie and her colleagues are using a vaccine customized for each individual dog. This is done by removing a lymph node and extracting material that is turned into a vaccine at CSU. Dogs also receive chemotherapy.
The vaccine theoretically suppresses immune cells in the body that prevent the immune system from fighting off the cancer. She calls these immune cells the “evil-doers.”
“The point of the study is to try to determine what we can do to trigger (the proper) immune response,” Elmslie explains.
The new method has been successful in laboratory mice and, if it works on dogs, it would be a “stepping stone” to a cure, she says.
It eventually could lead to progress in treating non-Hodgkins lymphoma in humans, she adds.
Dr. Elmslie says these studies in dogs are a good road map for what the expected outcomes could be in people. The ultimate intent is for this research to lead to new treatments for both pets and people.
A major positive for the dog owners is that the study is fully financed by the Skippy Frank Foundation, Matthew Frank and the VRCC oncology department, Elmslie says.
Tests began this summer and continue next year, followed by a year’s evaluation period.
Elmslie, who has been in practice in Denver since 1993, also spent a year in a research fellowship at National Jewish Hospital. Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado (VRCC) is a veterinary specialty and emergency hospital. Veterinary specialists there are also in the fields of neurology/neurosurgery, internal medicine, carophthalmology, and emergency care.