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JoAnna Lou
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New Potential Cancer Treatment for Dogs
Vienna Scientists are applying immunotherapy to canines

The last time my Sheltie, Nemo, needed a complicated surgery, I was in awe of the advancements in veterinary technology. Our pets benefit from many life saving procedures brought over from human medicine, but cancer immunotherapy has never been one of them. This treatment has been used successfully in people for about 20 years and uses antibodies to inhibit tumor growth and even trigger the destruction of cancer cells. Now the technology is finally being applied to dogs.

For the first time, scientists at the Messerli Research Institute of the Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Vienna have developed antibodies to treat cancer in dogs. The lead researchers, Josef Singer and Judith Fazekas, discovered that a receptor frequently found on human tumor cells (epidermal growth factor receptor or EGFR) is nearly 100 percent identical with the EGF receptor in dogs.

Still, the human antibody had to be trimmed to "dog" in the laboratory to ensure the best possible binding of the antibody to canine cancer cells. The process is called "humanization," named when the original mouse antibody was adjusted for human use. The initial experiments showed that the customization was successful and the next step will be to conduct clinical studies to treat affected dogs. The antibody used in this study is primarily used for human bowel cancer and will be used for mammary ridge cancer in dogs.

Immunotherapy also has the ability to aid in diagnosis, making this technology even more valuable. Antibodies can be coupled with signal molecules to make tumors and metastases visible to doctors. The doctors also hope that exploring canine therapy will lead to improvements in human medicine too.

It's great to see successful collaborations between human and canine doctors. Hopefully these joint efforts will one day lead to a treatment for all cancers.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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