Cancer vaccine for dogs may have use in children, research says

As every dog owner knows, they're a part of the family, so when one gets cancer - it's heartbreaking. But an experimental drug is helping them live longer, and it may be good news for children with cancer as well.

Harley, 10, doesn't move as fast as he did before he got osteosarcoma, a painful, cancerous tumor that grows in the bones.

"It's just amazing to me what he's been through and that he's still our Harley," said Kathy Fatscher, Harley's owner.

Dogs with osteosarcoma usually only have five months to live, but it hasn't claimed Harley yet, thanks to a new vaccine.

"The fact that these dogs are living two, three, four, five times longer than the length they were expected to live is remarkable," said Nicola Mason, PhD, veterinarian at University of Pennsylvania.

What's even more exciting to doctors at Penn Vet is the logical next step, since these treatments work for dogs with cancer.

"...Then we will be successful at preventing metastatic disease in children, and that is an amazing, amazing thing!" Mason said.

Because dogs and humans share so many biological similarities, researchers think the vaccine that helped Harley might also help a child with the same cancer. They're developing a protocol for a clinical trial to present to the FDA.

"You're going to be putting the TV on someday and there's going to be some little kid standing there saying 'You know I'm still alive because of Harley,'" said Bob Fatscher, Harley's owner.

"I mean if it can help a child and my Harley was part of it, you know, that's just amazing to me," Kathy said.

Harley's owners are savoring every minute they have with him but they hope his legacy lives on by eventually giving a child a fighting chance at life.

Researchers hope the FDA will allow the clinical trials for children to start by the end of 2016.

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BACKGROUND: This story gives new meaning to man's best friend. Harley is a 10-year-old Golden Retriever with osteosarcoma - a painful, cancerous tumor that grows in the bones. He has lived almost a year longer than his owners expected thanks to an experimental new drug. Dr. Nicola Mason, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has been researching a new vaccine that kills osteosarcoma cancer cells that survive chemotherapy. The vaccine contains a genetically modified bacteria, Listeria. Harley was given palliative radiation therapy in June of 2014 followed by eight doses of Listeria over a 24 week period. The theory behind the vaccine is that it will stimulate the immune system to kill the bacteria and also the cancer cells. But Mason is taking it one step further... since humans and dogs share so many similar biological characteristics, she's thinking the vaccine may be able to help children with the same cancer. "If you take a bone tumor from a dog and a child, you could not tell which is which," says Mason.

SIGNIFICANCE FOR BREAST CANCER: The research behind this vaccine actually began with breast cancer in women. It works by targeting the "her2/neu" molecule, a genetic marker that is commonly expressed in both breast cancer and osteosarcoma. Early results show the immunotherapy is safe and Mason is currently working on a proposal to present to the FDA with hopes she can begin human trials by the end of the year.

REDUCE YOUR DOG'S CANCER RISK: More than 10,000 dogs are diagnosed each year with osteosarcoma. The cancer invades the long bones of large dog breeds such as racing greyhounds, Rottweilers and Great Danes. Here are some ways you can reduce your pet's risk of cancer. Don't allow them to become overweight. Fat produces inflammation which can promote tumor development. Don't feed them food that's high in glucose. Cancer cells require the glucose in carbohydrates to grow and multiply. Carbs to remove from your pet's diet include processed grains, fruits with fructose, and starchy vegetables like potatoes. Keep in mind that all dry pet food contains some form of starch. It may be grain-free, but it can't be starch-free because it's not possible to manufacture kibble without using some type of starch. Reduce your pet's exposure to chemical pesticides like flea treatments, weed killers, tobacco smoke and household cleaners.

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Dr. Martha MaloneyHuss

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