They are our best friends, our constant company, our unconditional loves: our dogs. Though they often pass through our own lives for less time than our human dear-ones, our dogs are just as important in our lives, which is why a cancer diagnosis for your pet is crushing. But maybe it doesn’t have to be.
New clinical trials for a canine cancer vaccine as a part of the Vaccination Against Canine Cancer Study have recently begun and the researchers behind the study hope that the vaccine will be able to offer a preventative strategy against cancer. David Vail, a professor and board-certified oncologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, commented that the vaccine will hopefully work to prime “the immune system such that if a cancer cell develops, it will attack.”
The vaccine will focus on multiple cancers including lymphoma, osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mastocytomas. The vaccine works similarly to traditional vaccines, mainly by introducing 30 abnormal proteins found on the surface of cancer cells in the hopes of stimulating an immune response that will later be recognized if those cells were to ever develop afterward.
The first dogs to receive the vaccine just a few days ago were 9-year-old Gordon setter Trilly and 9-year-old rat terrier mix Norton. Over 800 other dogs are already enrolled in the study and will receive either a placebo or the actual vaccine every two weeks, for a total of four treatments, followed by annual vaccinations. The dogs in the trial will receive top-notch medical treatment and monitoring for the five-year trial period while still living at home with their owners.
“We’re testing a totally novel way of creating an anti-cancer immune response,” says Vail. “The holy grail would be to prevent cancer as opposed to waiting for it to start and then treating it.”
There are also hopes that this change in the way we confront cancer could work not only for dogs but for people as well. A preventative vaccine could save untold numbers of lives, especially for the 70% of individuals with cancer diagnoses that live in developing countries with limited access to treatment options. If such a vaccine could be made possible for humans and “applied globally at low expense,” Vail says, it would mean “a whole new way of looking at anti-cancer vaccines. The key is that you don’t have to personalize the vaccine to an individual, which is a very expensive proposition.”