N.C. ó Eliza, a 13-year old Labrador retriever from
Charlotte, N.C., is a four-legged miracle.
a year and a half ago, her cancer was essentially cured
during a clinical trial at N.C. State Universityís vet
Eliza and other canine patients might teach researchers
something about cancer in their two-legged friends.
Duke Cancer Institute and NCSUís College of Veterinary
Medicine have formed the Consortium for Canine
Comparative Oncology, or C3O for short. On Friday, more
than 150 doctors and researchers gathered in Cary, N.C.,
for a symposium to kick off the new partnership.
at Duke and NCSU have worked together before on
individual studies, but a formal relationship is
expected to spur more collaboration, along with some
initial funding from both universities to get projects
started. They hope to raise money to keep the work
experts and drug developers increasingly believe they
can create and speed successful treatments in dogs, with
implications for certain types of human cancers. The
field of oncology is moving away from toxic
chemotherapies and more toward medicines targeted to
tumor mutations and treatments that rev up the immune
Michael Kastan, executive director of Duke Cancer
Institute, said the time is right to compare treatments
in people to treatments in animals other than mice,
which are intentionally given diseases in a lab setting.
Dogs and people live in the same environment and they
share some similar types of tumors that spontaneously
because many pet owners donít have easy access or the
financial wherewithal to seek cancer treatment for dogs,
there should be a large group of volunteers eager to
participate in clinical trials.
want to treat the cancers that occur in their pets, and
so this is an opportunity to help us learn about how to
use these new drugs that are being developed,"
Kastan said. "The dogs will benefit, the owners
will benefit and when we take the drugs to humans weíll
know a lot more about how to use them."
said half of all dogs over the age of 10 will die of
cancer. Itís generally a disease of aging, similar to
that in humans. There are differences, most notably that
people smoke and get a whole host of cancers that dogs
donít get. At the same time, certain breeds of dogs
have a higher incidence of cancer. Kastan said doctors
can learn more by studying the genetics of those breeds.
the Labrador didnít smoke but developed what appeared
to be a terminal case of mouth and nose cancer.
warm day in 2014, Elizaís owner, Lynne Murchison of
Charlotte, noticed that the beloved family dog had a
swollen snout. At first it seemed like a simple bee
sting. But when she took Eliza out for a walk, the dog
started bleeding from her mouth.
a veterinarian delivered the bad news. Eliza had maybe
five weeks to live. "I was destroyed,"
the wee hours of a sleepless night, she scoured the NCSU
vet school website, where she scrolled through various
clinical trials and hit upon one for oral tumors. Soon
Eliza was in Raleigh, N.C., the first dog enrolled in
that particular study.
veterinarians implanted tiny particles in the tumor,
then injected her with drugs and small doses of X-rays
that converted to UV light. Itís a new treatment
called Immunolight Therapy. The light activates drugs in
the tumor, causing an immune response against the
had nine treatments spread across a month. At first the
dog struggled with a bad reaction to one medication. Her
teeth were loose, she had trouble eating and she began
to lose weight. "I didnít think she was going to
make it through," Murchison said.
about halfway through the treatment, Eliza began to
secrete a mucous from her nose. In the words of Dr. Mike
Nolan, Elizaís oncologist at NCSU, the tumor
"literally melted away." The swelling went
down and she started to eat again.
fall, about a year after the treatment, Nolan did a CT
scan on Eliza and found no cancer.
said her dog suffers from hip displasia, common in older
dogs. But she walks three times a day.
fat, she loves to eat," Murchison said. "Sheís
just a happy girl and thereís just no sign of the
said that clinical trial ended a few months ago with
encouraging outcomes. Next, doctors will try the same
treatment on dogs with oral melanoma, a terrible disease
similar to mucosal melanoma in humans. Lessons can be
very exciting for what it might bring to the pet
population and the human cancer population here,"
Nolan said. "Itís exciting for what we might
sees opportunity to reduce the cost and time of testing
therapies in humans. Doctors can figure out how to
perfect the methods and drug cocktails in dogs.
said sheíd like to think of Eliza helping humans down
the road, while she continues to outlast the average
lifespan of a Labrador.
think itís absolutely the right thing to do," she
said of the clinical trials. "Where else are we
going to learn these things?"