Exciting Research at the Mason Canine Cancer Immunotherapy Research Laboratory

Dr. Nicola Mason B.Vet.Med., PhD, DACVIM (Internal Medicine), is associate professor at Penn Vet, at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her current research is focused on using “canine cancer vaccines” in dogs with lymphoma or osteosarcoma.  The purpose of the vaccine is to “kick start” the dog’s immune system to identify and attack cancer cells.  More detailed information about these two studies can be found at the Penn Vet website here.

In the case of canine osteosarcoma, it is a highly aggressive cancer in dogs and often requires the amputation of one of the dog’s limbs, followed by chemotherapy.  However, even after amputation and chemo, it is possible that some cancer cells could remain in the body, leading to the spread of the cancer and possible eventual metastasis.  Even with these treatments, “60% of dogs will die within one year of diagnosis,” according to an article from the Rottweiler Health Foundation.

The article goes on to say that “’the results so far appear to be promising’ Mason says. ‘If we compare our vaccinated dogs with a  group of dogs with the same type of bone cancer and who received the same  treatment, but were not vaccinated, we find that our vaccine group is surviving  significantly longer.’ She also goes on to explain ‘we have observed very few, minor side effects including mild fevers and one –two episodes of vomiting 4-6  hours after vaccination. These side effects resolve on their own and are an indication that the patient’s immune system is being stimulated by the vaccine, which is what we are hoping for.’”

If you are interested in learning about other clinical trials that are ongoing at Penn Vet, the current list can be found here.  The site allows you to search by animal and disease as well.

Promising Research on Cancer Vaccines for Dogs with Melanoma, Bone and Liver Cancers

Promising research is underway to create a cancer vaccine for dogs with cancer.  What is interesting about this approach is that the treatment is performed on an individual basis, where tumor cells are removed from the dog and then the cells are processed and combine with bacteria to then create a vaccine, tailored to that specific dog.  The idea is that the vaccine will then cause the dog’s immune system to attack the cancer cells, and in some case, has slowed the growth of the cancer and even resulted in remission.  At this time, almost 30 dogs with advanced melanoma, bone and liver cancers have participated in trials, according to an article in The Dogington Post.  Results of the trial are not yet available, as the researchers are filing patents first.

This technology is not new, however, and there is a DNA-based, melanoma vaccine that has been on the market since 2010 (but this existing vaccine does not incorporate cells from the dog).  The article states that studies of dogs with Stage II and III melanoma in the mouth have shown that using the vaccine results in average survival times of 20 months or longer, compared to less than six months without the vaccine.  Note that the vaccine is used in conjunction with surgery to remove the tumors.

If your dog currently has melanoma and you are interested in learning more about the vaccine, you can find details at this site.  It is available through veterinary oncologists.

Free Online Interview Series November 19-22 on “Hospice Care for Our Animal Companions”

Dr. Ella Bittel is one of over 40 speakers that will be featured in the upcoming Death Expo 2015.  From November 19-22, 2015, the interviews are available for free.  Her interview is part of Track 2:  Caring for the Dying and her topic is “Hospice Care for Our Animal Companions.”  If you cannot listen to the interview during this free period, you can purchase an Access Pass which provides unlimited access after November 22.  These passes are normally $60, but if you enter the Coupon Code Speaker, you will receive a $20 discount.

While I can’t speak for the other interviews, I would highly recommend listening to Dr. Bittel.  In my mind, she is the founder of animal hospice in the US, and her website, Spirits in Transition, has many resources that are useful to anyone who is in the throes of providing hospice care to a beloved animal.

In her interview, Dr. Bittel covers what is required to provide hospice care to our dogs and cats, how to prepare yourself so that hospice care is a possibility for you and your animal, and understanding the conditions that are needed to allow a natural death with hospice.

New Research on Platelets May Help Identify Tumors

Research on blood platelets is currently being conducted at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  The team, which is part of the Comparative Angiogenesis Laboratory, is led by Drs. Camillo Bulla and Kari Lunsford.  Dr. Bulla explained that “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.”  This has encouraged the team to look 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.

Dr. Lunsford adds that “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.”  To perform this research, he lab developed a new way to separate platelets from blood samples with a minimal amount of contamination.  In fact, this new technique has garnered the interest of researchers all over the country, who wish to learn and benefit from it.

While the team’s primary focus is on canine cancer, because there is a clear link between cancer in animals and humans, their research will likely benefit people in the future as well.  You can read more about their research in this article.

Free Teleconference on The Animal Heart Wisdom Show, Thursday, 11/13

One of the great pioneers in the field of animal hospice will be giving a free teleconference on animal hospice and end-of-life care.  Dr. Ella Bittel, DVM, founder of Spirits in Transition, has been a proponent and teacher of animal hospice for many years.  I attended Dr. Bittel’s Sprits in Transition workshop about 4 years ago and it was a transforming experience for me and was where I learned so many useful techniques for caring for animals that are at, or nearing, end-of-life.  I am forever grateful to Dr. Bittel’s willingness to share her knowledge and experience with pet owners all over the world.

During the event, Dr. Bittel will cover:

  • How Ella’s dog MoMo changed her life – and how her passion for Animal Hospice emerged
  • Why Ella decided to create and offer Spirits In Transition Animal Hospice Training and Services
  • What is End-Of-Life, and Hospice care for animals, and some differences from Hospice care for people
  • Ways that Tellington TTouch, Essential Oils, Flower Essences, Chinese Medicine and other holistic approaches are so useful in End-Of-Life Care with animal companions
  • WHEN is a good time to start Hospice or End-Of-Life Care for animal companions
  • Crucial Planning Tips for times when your animal needs a lot of care -that you can begin to incorporate NOW
  • Ways you can learn more in depth about Animal Hospice and End-Of-Life Care with animals
  • Have the opportunity to ask Ella Your questions, Live

The event will take place on Thursday, November 13th at 7 pm Eastern; 6pm Central; 5pm Mountain; and 4pm Pacific Time.  Please register for the event at this link.  Note that everyone who registers will be sent the replay even if they cannot make the live call.


Marsha and her Bucket List

A family in the Denver area adopted Marsha from the Humane Society, finding out on the day they adopted her that she had cancer.  She had already suffered a difficult life and had been abused, so they went ahead with the adoption, knowing that no one else would likely adopt her in this condition.  They decided that they would do whatever they could to ensure that her remaining days were filled with the fun things that she loved to do, so they created a bucket list for her.

Since then, Marsha has been enjoying special walks, camping trips and fly-fishing outings with her two favorite people in the whole world.  You can read the whole story here.

I loved reading this story and so admire their ability to live in the present with Marsha, who does not exhibit any outward signs of suffering from cancer.  I aspire to have this same attitude if I am ever faced with cancer again.  Since I have battled cancer already 3 out of 4 times (and our fourth dog is only 3 at this point), my suspicion is that I will face that diagnosis again in the future.

Apologies for the delays in posting recently.  My son broke his collarbone and had to have surgery last week, so my focus has been in caring for him.

I will also be taking a break from the blog for the remainder of August, so look out for more posts in September!

Great website on animal massage

One of my favorite websites to learn about animal massage is aptly called “All About Animal Massage.”  Megan Ayrault is an expert on the subject and offers many free, informational videos here as well as fee courses.  Her classes cover both dogs and horses.  Here is a short bio about Megan from her site:

“Megan Ayrault is a Licensed Massage Practitioner for animals and people and a professional educator with a Master in Teaching degree from Seattle University. Prior to her current bodywork career, Megan worked in schools and with horses, and enjoyed teaching therapeutic riding for children and adults with disabilities. The therapy horses, as well as her own animals, were her original motivation for learning massage.”

She also periodically offers related resources from other practitioners, such as Vicki Draper, who works in CranioSacral Therapy (CST) for animals.  I have actually had CST performed on myself and it was a huge relief when I was dealing with lower back pain.  You can check out Vicki’s site here.  You can sign up to receive her free e-book called “Healing Your Animal Quick Start Package.”  Vicki is offering a free teleclass on “Healing Your Animal” that is being offered on July 30th at 10 AM (PDT).  More details here.  Apologies for the short notice, but I just learned of this opportunity.

2 Million Dogs 2015 “Cancer Can’t Keep a Good Dog Down” Calendar Contest in Progress

The 2 Million Dogs organization is running a search for their 2015 calendar.  Anyone can enter their pup, but the deadline is coming up fast on July 15th. The fee is $10 and counts as an automatic 10 votes for your entry.  Additional votes are $1 each.

Voting continues through August 10th, so if you want to cast a vote, take a look at the entrants, read their stories and consider voting for a few of your favorites.  The money raised will go towards canine cancer research.

I first learned about 2 Million Dogs a few years ago and participated in one of their “Puppy Up” walks here in Seattle, but they organized all around the country.  You can find out more about the organization here, including information on upcoming walks.

With cancer taking the lives of so many dogs each year, I think it is important to contribute to finding ways to cure or palliate its effects.  In the years since Porter had cancer, so many advances have been made that have extended the quality of life for so many dogs already.  If you go back through my blog, you’ll see many of these posts.  Hopefully, it is just a matter of time before we no longer have to fear the dreaded announcement of a cancer diagnosis.

Morris Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study

The Morris Foundation has started a new study that will track volunteer dogs’ health for life in order to gain insights into preventing and treating cancer and other canine diseases.  The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is the first of its kind, and is modeled after the Framingham Heart Study, which has run continuously since 1948.  The goal of the study is to determine how frequently cancer and other diseases occur and to see if nutrition and the environment are contributing factors.

Here are the selling points of the study according to the Morris Foundation:

  • Be Part of History This is the largest and longest study ever conducted to advance veterinary medicine for dogs.
  • Help Determine Risk Factors for Canine Diseases The genetic, environmental and nutritional data from participating dogs will help us learn how to prevent cancer and other canine diseases.
  • Improve the Health of Future Generations What is learned from the Golden Retrievers in the study will give all dogs a brighter, healthier future.

You may or may not know that golden retrievers have the highest disposition for cancer, according to the Purdue University National Breed Health Survey study.

The Morris Foundation is looking for a total of 3,000 dogs to join the study and as of the writing of this post, have already enrolled 1,610 dogs in the study.  If you have a golden who is under two years of age and you reside in the contiguous United States, consider joining the study.  Information can be found on their site.

In order to participate in the study, the owner has to agree to have regular visits with their veterinarian.  The initial exam includes a complete physical, and the documentation of any abnormalities, including heart murmurs, dental disease and arthritis.  Dogs are thoroughly examined for skin masses and any found are extensively categorized, according to location, and may be removed and sent to pathology to document the findings.  Each year, owners are required to complete online questionnaires about lifestyle, diet, environment, exercise, medications, etc. throughout the life of their dog.  There is some monetary compensation given to offset the costs of these exams, but I understand that the costs are not covered 100%.


New Trial Underway for Canine Osteosarcoma

Promising new work is being performed by Dr. Nicola Mason at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) for dogs with osteosarcoma.  The study is currently open to dogs with early stages of the disease who have not had any limbs amputated yet.  The treatment involves a tumor-targeting vaccine in combination with radiation therapy.  The goal of the treatment is to decrease cancer pain and increase the survival rate for dogs with this deadly disease.  So far, the trial has shown positive results in terms of limiting the spread of the cancer and prolonging the lives of these dogs.

She is currently recruiting dogs for the study, and can be reached via email at nmason@vet.upenn.edu or via phone at 3996. For more information, you can go to the Penn Vet website about Dr. Mason’s Canine Cancer Studies here.

Dr. Mason has had success in treating dogs with osteosarcoma who have had amputation and chemotherapy as well.  According to the article I found in the Philly Inquirer, “of the first five dogs vaccinated in a previous clinical trial, four have survived over two years since diagnosis and three of these dogs remain completely tumor-free.”  You can read more here.  These statistics are really impressive.

Knowing that the grim statistics for dogs with osteosarcoma are that sixty percent die within the first year of diagnosis, I’d highly recommend learning more about this study if you are facing this situation with your dog.