U of M Develops New Treatments for Pets with Brain Tumors

Updated: 07/11/2013 1:32 PM KSTP.com By: Katherine Johnson

We rely on the family dog to be there for us when we come home from a long day, and now "man's best friend" is taking that level of unconditional love a step further. 
Researchers at the University of Minnesota are developing new treatments for pets with brain tumors. Thanks to that clinical trial, they're now using the same technique to see if the treatment can eliminate cancerous cells in people with brain tumors, too.

Roxy is a 12-year-old Boxer with the energy of a puppy. But she hasn't always been as active.

"They're shaking and they're on the floor and you just don't know what to do," owner Chris Schmid said.

Six months ago, Roxy was diagnosed with Glioblastoma - the deadliest and most common type of brain cancer.  Schmid was told Roxy would only survive one month. Then Schmid found Dr. Liz Pluhar at the University of Minnesota.

"We're doing something here that they're not doing anywhere else," Pluhar said.

Roxy is one of 100 dogs Pluhar is treating for brain cancer using a technique that doesn't involve toxic therapies like chemotherapy and radiation.

"The chemotherapy and the radiation makes you feel bad. You're tired, you just don't feel well," Pluhar said.

This new technique is actually a vaccine designed to help the immune system destroy remaining cancer cells after the tumor is surgically removed.  

"It's a way of using your own body and what your own body can do - stimulating it to attack these tumor cells," Pluhar said.

And it's yielding results. Six months after surgery and Roxy is free of all cancer cells.

"They act like there's nothing wrong with them at all," Pluhar said. "There's no side effects of the treatment and they have a very good quality of life."

Before the vaccine, dogs like Roxy were only living one month after diagnosis. With the treatment it can be more than a year. And you know what they say - one year in dog years. "Does that translate to seven years in people? That would be huge. That would be unheard of," Pluhar said.

Tumors in dogs and people are often nearly clinically identical, meaning this treatment could work for both. Because of results like Roxy's, researchers are now undergoing the same clinical trial on people patients at the University's medical school.

"It's kind of like I've given them hope where they didn't have any before and that's a fantastic feeling," Pluhar said. "This could be the big type of breakthrough that people have been waiting for."

"It's been lifesaving," Schmid said. "Not just for Roxy, but for other people that she can help and now this will be her legacy. This will be something that I can always remember and be proud of for her."

There is little to no cost to the dog owner for going through the trial, and researchers are always looking for more applicants to better develop the vaccine into, hopefully one day, a cure.
Click here to watch an extended interview with Pluhar.
Click here for contact information if you're interested in enrolling your dog in the study.