Novel cancer therapy may extend the lives of terminally ill dogs

Researchers say treatment could also benefit human cancer patients who are out of options

Cats might have nine lives, but dogs have only one. And if your beloved pet gets cancer, that one life will likely be short.

A recent study out of Singapore has found a promising form of chemoimmunotherapy that offers hope to pet owners facing a terminal diagnosis for their canine.

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Scientists at the NUS Centre for Cancer Research Translational Research Program at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, used stem cell technology to treat dogs with cancer. The team modified mesenchymal stem cells, which are able to seek out cancerous tumors.

”These modified cells carry a potent ‘kill-switch’ (cytosine deaminase) that produces a high, localised concentration of a cancer killing drug (5-fluorouracil) in the tumour environment and subsequently induces anti-cancer immunity,” according to Vet Candy.

Study lead Too Heng-Phon, an associate professor in the research program and the Department of Biochemistry at NUS Medicine, added: “To repurpose stem cells for cancer treatment, it is usual to use viruses to introduce therapeutic genes into the cells. We have however, designed a non-viral gene delivery platform that introduces a high payload of therapeutic genes into the stem cells, to effectively destroy the out-of-control growing cancer cells. With this therapy that has been proven safe and demonstrated promising clinical benefits in animal patients, we hope to develop effective treatment options to help human patients with cancer as well, which can improve their health without compromising their quality of life.”

The researchers treated 65 dogs and two cats suffering from perianal adenoma, lung metastasis, sarcoma and other conditions. The first treatment was an injection of the engineered stem cells directly into the tumor or blood stream. That was followed oral pills containing 5-flucytosine, a drug commonly used to treat fungal infection.

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The cycle was repeated for two more weeks, constituting a first course of treatment. A course would be repeated if needed.

Did it work? Fifty-six had a positive response, including 14 that fully recovered. Two of the dogs remain cancer free more than a year after their treatment, and 46 patients showed “good quality of life” over two to 32 months, with the treatment.

“Currently, we can develop this therapy for up to 18 human patients every week. Beyond results that have shown to benefit our companion animals, it is our hope to extend the therapy to human patients in the future and improve healthcare outcomes for those who have cancer — especially when they have no treatment options left,” said Dr. Ho Yoon Khei, senior research fellow in the program, and first author and lead scientist of the study, according to Vet Candy.

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