The new vaccine is made from a dog’s tumor and is used to target cancer cells, wiping out the need for chemotherapy, according to researchers from the University of Missouri. Currently, bone cancer in humans is treated through targeted therapy, cryosurgery, radiation therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy, according to the United States National Cancer Institute. A recent study by the U.S. National Cancer Institute compared the remission periods of dogs that were given the vaccine as well as dogs that underwent chemotherapy, finding that dogs given the vaccine had more than 400 days of remission on average while dogs that received chemotherapy experienced an average of about 270 days of remission.
"A vaccine is made out of the dog's own tumor for the dog's immune system to recognize," explained Jeffrey Bryan, a professor of oncology at the College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the university's Comparative Oncology Radiobiology and Epigenetics Laboratory. "The dogs received no chemotherapy and received only immunotherapy after their surgery. It's the first time that dogs with osteosarcoma [bone cancer] have experienced prolonged survival without receiving chemotherapy, which is really exciting.”
While animal studies don’t always translate directly to having the same effects on humans, dogs are a common test cohort researchers will use to understand potential treatments for humans, as both species share some common health challenges and even similar biological systems, like the endocannabinoid system (or ECS). The ECS is a biological system found in all mammals, responsible for managing a range of biological processes from memory function to immune responses and even sleep, which is also why both dogs and humans can both be given CBD treatments – a non psychoactive compound of cannabis that interacts with the body – for example, for anything from cancer to arthritis and even eye health as they both age. Nonetheless, discoveries and breakthroughs like this are always promising to researchers.
"After we remove the tumor, we create a vaccine using the dog's tumor cells to stimulate anti-tumor lymphocytes" which are then transfused into the dog, as Bryan explains. "These cells are activated and essentially really angry at whatever they are supposed to attack. When put back into the body, they should identify and destroy tumor cells. Ideally, this immune response would destroy every last tumor cell.”
Even with the promising and exciting outlook, all research and testing on the new vaccine are still in early enough stages that it will remain “preliminary” until it can be published in a peer review journal. It was only recently that it was presented at the Veterinary Cancer Society Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. So Bryan and his team will continue their research with this new vaccine with a larger goal of administering clinical trials to treat bone cancer and eventually other types of cancer in humans.
According to the AKC Canine Health Foundation, bone cancer is typically a “leg or life” diagnosis for dogs. Survival times are typically expected to be about one year for 50 percent of osteosarcoma treated using the current standard of care, while some dogs can survive five to six years after diagnosis. The signs to look out for are subtle, though, making it difficult to treat many cases as early as possible. Dogs will experience lameness, swelling, and joint or bone pain — many of the same symptoms of another common health problem for dogs, arthritis. However, in some cases, a large growth will develop around the site of the tumor, making it easier for owners to spot in their dog and get a proper diagnosis and treatment earlier on. And in fact, many forms of cancer are highly common for dogs later in life with some of the same early symptoms and signs. According to veterinary oncologist Dave Ruslander, 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will develop some form of it.
According to the National Canine Cancer Foundation, dogs like the Great Dane, Irish setter, Doberman pinscher, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, and Golden Retriever are at the highest risk of developing Osteosarcoma, the most common primary bone tumor found in dogs. This typically occurs in older dogs seven and a half years and older, with these breeds being at the highest risk because of their size and weight. At least 75 percent of Osteosarcoma cases occur in the limbs, although it can take place anywhere in the body and the exact causes are still unclear to researchers. And while noticing a new tumor or growth may be startling at first, it’s important for owners to know that these are actually common in most older dogs and aren’t always cancerous. Fatty deposits and benign lumps are common for dogs at this point in their life, which means regular checkups to get lumps inspected are a must. Being aware of lesions and wounds that won’t heal is a must, however, as a healthy pup’s immune system will heal typical wounds efficiently. Other common signs for owners to watch out for are lameness, a significant and noticeable change in energy and weight/size, and even abnormal discharges, but of course, each of these things could signal different types of cancer or illnesses in the body, requiring different attention from a vet. When you suspect or notice your dog has been lame and is experiencing pain, a veterinarian will first use x-rays to view the possible affected area. Further tests include biopsies, blood tests, bone scans, and CAT scans and if the eventual diagnosis is in fact cancer, the prognosis is typically often not good. On top of that, the existing treatments mentioned typically have a significant impact on the dog’s quality of life.