Clinical trials offer hope to dogs and humans

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By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer

Rachel Mangan and her dog Angus, a patient in a clinical trial at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. Photo/submitted

Grafton – The American Cancer Society estimates that by the end of this year, there will be 1,735,350 new cancer cases diagnosed. In light of these alarming estimates, it’s clear that many more actions need to be taken to prevent and cure cancer.

The Clinical Trials Office at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University is striving to achieve new research breakthroughs to fight the disease. The office is conducting trials with volunteer canine patients, and it hopes the research will lead to better treatments for humans. At the moment, two trials – one focused on dogs with osteosarcoma and one on dogs with solid tumors – are currently enrolling canine patients.

Although many of the nearly 500 pets that participate in trials at the medical center each year are enrolled in trials to aid in the development of treatments of pets with diseases that specifically affect animals, several are enrolled in ones that could benefit humans as well.

The goal of the canine osteosarcoma trial, for instance, is to find new immunotherapy drug combinations that will either stop the growth of tumor spread or shrink the spread in dogs with osteosarcoma that has spread to their lungs. But the research results could also help the many children and young adults who are fighting the same disease.

Dr. Cheryl London, director of the Clinical Trials Office, said that there haven’t been any significant improvements in treating metastatic osteosarcoma in over 30 years.

“It would be nice to change that,” she said.

London noted that recruiting canine patients is one of the office’s biggest challenges.

“Ideally, we want them when they’re still feeling good,” she said. “We want the best chance possible of stopping the spread from growing.”

The goal of the New Chemotherapy Treatment for Solid Tumors trial, which is also recruiting canine patients, is to test a new formulation of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel in dogs with various cancers – including mast cell tumors, sarcomas and carcinomas. One new trial participant with the latter of the three in his jawline is Angus, a 13-year-old black lab. Described by his human companion, Rachel Mangan, as “the sweetest dog that ever lived,” his experience in the trial has been a positive one.

This is Angus’ second bout with cancer. Mangan said that he was being treated with a different type of chemotherapy, but the tumor kept growing. That’s when a Tufts veterinarian told her about the trial. Since another beloved pet – who has since passed away – had been enrolled in a previous trial, she didn’t hesitate to enroll Angus.

“So far, it’s been great. He hasn’t had any side effects we can see,” said Mangan, who noted that Angus is still in great spirits. “His energy level is the same as before he was sick.”

In addition to helping Angus, she hopes the findings will help other dogs as well. And she’s grateful for this opportunity.

“We’ll take as many days as we can get,” Mangan shared. “We feel incredibly lucky for him to be asked and for him to be eligible.”

London hopes that all people who have pets with cancer will ask their veterinarians about clinical trials. There’s no cost, and their participation could benefit themselves, other pets and, sometimes, humans.

“These are important trials; they offer options for people whose animals have cancer,” London said. “I hope human patients will benefit as well.”