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Tag: experimental

Hope for glioblastoma victims seen in dog experiments underway at Virginia Tech


The rare form of brain cancer that killed John McCain and Ted Kennedy has also been a death sentence for many dogs, but researchers are seeing at least a little hope for canines in an experimental treatment being studied at Virginia Tech.

Researchers at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech are enrolling dogs with glioblastoma into a clinical trial to test the experimental drug that is injected directly into the tumors.

They say the results are so promising that the National Institutes of Health is now helping fund the trial, hoping it could eventually lead to a breakthrough in humans.

McCain succumbed to the cancer Aug. 25, exactly nine years to the day after Kennedy, his former colleague in the Senate, did.

Dogs and humans are the only species in which primary brain tumors are common. In dogs, a glioma accounts for about 35% of all spontaneous primary brain tumors. The prognosis for both dogs and humans diagnosed with the cancer is poor.

In the Virginia Tech clinical trial, researchers are testing the safety and effectiveness of molecularly targeted cytotoxins, which are chemotherapeutic drugs — a treatment developed at the Thomas K. Hearn Brain Tumor Research Center at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

The drugs are designed to affect only cancerous cells, and not normal brain tissue. Using specialized catheters the cytotoxins are infused into the tumor over a several hour period. The drug treatment is monitored continuously with MRI to allow the neurosurgeon to precisely track the drug delivery.

CBS News reported on the trials recently and interviewed the owners of one of the study’s participants — a 10-year-old Portuguese water dog named Emily.

Laura Kamienski said she was devastated when her dog was diagnosed earlier this year, and was willing to try any experimental treatment available.

It has been six weeks since Emily’s first treatment and Kamienski said Emily hasn’t had a seizure. MRI scans show Emily’s tumors are shrinking.

“She’s herself,” she said.

“We watch the entire treatment on MRI,” Dr. John Rossmeisl, professor neurology and neurosurgery at Virginia Tech, told CBS News. “So we can watch the drug cover the tumor. And so we know we’ve achieved the treatment goals of actually targeting all the cancer cells.”

“The black spot means the tumor is dying. That’s what we want to see,” Rossmeisl said. “The only way this could have been better if it was totally gone. This is really good news.”

“It’s not a cure, Kamienski said. “I knew that going in. This is the best hope — to give her more time.”

(Photos: At top, brain scans from a 7-year-old female Boston terrier, Virginia Tech; lower, McCain and Kennedy, Twitter)

Chinese scientists clone dogs with heart disease — and call it an achievement

longlong

China says it has managed to join South Korea as a world leader in canine cloning — by managing to create a clone of a sick dog.

Longlong, a beagle, was born with a blood-clotting disorder, and that was just what the scientists were hoping for.

The pup is a clone of Apple, a different dog whose genome was edited to develop the disease atherosclerosis, CNN reported.

longlong1By cloning the bioengineered dog, the scientists ensured they will have a good supply of diseased dogs for experiments they say could lead to cures for the condition that causes strokes and heart disease in humans.

Longlong was created by the Beijing-based biotech company Sinogene, which is boasting about having created the world’s first dog cloned from a gene-edited donor.

With Longlong’s birth, and two more clones of the bio-engineered dog being born since then, the scientists claimed that China had matched South Korea as a leader in canine cloning technology. South Korean scientists cloned the first dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy, in 2005.

“Dogs share the most inheritable diseases with human beings, which makes them the best disease models to study,” says Feng Chong, technical director at Sinogene.

While the pups haven’t shown any signs of cardiovascular disease yet, their cloning ensures they will get it. Experimental drugs to treat cardiovascular diseases are already being tested on them.

Longlong’s birth combined two technologies: A gene-editing tool called CRISPR with somatic cell cloning technology, the method used to clone Dolly the sheep and later, Snuppy.

Zhao Jianping, vice manager of Sinogene, says the company’s success in dog cloning is about 50%. Two surrogate dogs out of four gave birth to three cloned puppies. The other two did not get pregnant.

Scientists at Sinogene believe their work aids the future of pharmaceutical development and biomedical research and it plans to produce more cloned dogs like Longlong.

“Gene-edited dogs are very useful for pharmaceutical companies,” said Feng. “The supply falls short of the demand every year.”

(Poor little pharmaceutical companies.)

The scientists also say cloning bio-engineered dogs to create puppy clones that will be born with the disease is kinder than the previous method of creating atherosclerosis in lab dogs — namely, force feeding with meals high in sugar.

Scientists, in case you haven’t noticed, have also invented a way to justify just about anything they want to do.

So if you want to hail this as a great achievement in technology, go ahead. I prefer to see it as scientists taking another giant stride toward playing God — giveth-ing life to dogs, only to taketh it away. Mankind may benefit (or at least live a longlong time), but rest assured the biggest gains will go to pharmaceutical companies.

(Photos: CNN)

Overdue: Yale law library tries therapy dog

At the Yale University Law Library, you can check out “Legal Alchemy: The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law.” You can check out “The Supreme Court A to Z: A Ready Reference Encyclopedia.”

Or, you can check out Monty, a terrier mix whose mission, in an experimental program started this month, is to de-stress, during final exam time, the litigators of tomorrow.

You’d think a genius farm like Yale University would have figured out sooner — as some smaller and lesser known colleges have — that dogs can, physically and emotionally, help students through troubled or stressful times.

But, for the school whose mascot is an English bulldog named Handsome Dan, it’s better late than never.

In the pilot program, students can check out Monty — a  21-pound “certified library therapy dog” who provides 30-minute sessions of what ABCNews describes as “unconditional, stress-busting puppy love.”

“The interest in available slots has been high,” said Jan Conroy, a spokeswoman for Yale Law School.

In a March 10 memo, law librarian Blair Kauffman said she hoped the free, three-day pilot pet therapy program would be “a positive addition to current services offered by the library … It is well documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being.” The memo directed students to the website of Therapy Dogs International for more information.

The school has yet to decide if the program will be ongoing. Likely, it being Yale Law School, there are liability concerns — the type that are known to paralyze bureaucracies and often limit the good dogs can do, based on mostly baseless fears.

Monty, for example, though he is said to be hypoallergenic, will hold his visits in a “designated non-public space” in the library to eliminate “potential adverse reactions from any library user who might have dog-related concerns.”

Concerns have also been expressed about the sign-up list for Monty being in a visible spot. That, the overly fearful fear, results in students having to expose their need for a mental health session — or at least some time with a dog — in public.

Monty — whose full name is General Montgomery — belongs to librarian Julian Aiken. And the pilot program got started after a Yale legal blog jokingly suggested making Monty available for checkout.

Therapy dogs have been introduced at Tufts University in Massachusetts, Oberlin College in Ohio and UC San Diego to help students get through the pressures of mid-terms and finals.

Utah labs cease use of shelter animals

The University of Utah has announced that it will no longer purchase dogs and cats from North Utah Valley Animal Shelter (NUVAS) — or any other animal shelter — for use in medical experiments.

The decision was praised by PETA, which has waged a lengthy campaign against the practice.

“PETA is thrilled for the dogs, cats and people of Utah now that the University of Utah has stopped using animal shelters as dirt-cheap sources of living lab equipment, marking the complete end of pound seizure in the state,’’ said Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s vice president for laboratory investigations.

Until last year, animal shelters in Utah were required to sell cats and dogs in their custody to the university under a practice known as pound seizure. A change in state law made it voluntary for shelters to participate. The North Utah Valley Animal Shelter, however, continued to supply animals for research in the belief that it was helping to ease human suffering and advance medical knowledge.

NUVAS sold the university about 100 dogs and cats a year, Director Tug Gettling told the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The practice, over the years, saw hundreds of former pets and strays sacrificed for purposes of medical experimentation — though not all that were used in experiments were killed.  Last year, a pet owner who turned her dog, Sheena (above) over to the shelter was shocked to learn — when she called to see if she had been adopted — that the dog had been sold to the university for experimentation. Later, with help from PETA, she launched a successful campaign to get the dog back from the university and into an adoptive home.

According to the Tribune, the decades-old practice of buying animals from shelters was halted by the university in mid-January.

Thomas Parks, the university’s vice president for research, said the decision was aimed at bringing an end to the campaign against the shelter by animal welfare advocates. Parks said the university will instead obtain dogs bred for laboratory use by certified breeders — a costlier but less controversial method.

PETA’s Guillermo said she hoped the added cost of specially bred animals would lead the university to seek alternatives to using live animals in its experiments.

Parks said employees at the non-profit municipal shelter “have been suffering a lot of harassment” and that the shelter has received thousands of hostile emails and phone calls, several bomb threats and at least three public protests.

A Salt Lake Tribune investigation a year ago found that about 60 percent of all shelter animals the shelter provided to the university between 2007 and 2009 were killed after being experimented on, while the rest entered an adoption program.

Batman leaves a legacy of hope behind

batmandogWord came this week that Batman, the dog whose brain tumor was being successfully treated with an experimental gene therapy at the University of Minnesota, has died of pneumonia.

“I wanted to let you know that sadly we lost Batman a few weeks ago,” his owner, Anna Brailovsky, wrote ohmidog! in an email. “The very good news is that it was not to brain cancer, so we can still consider him to be a great success story.”

Brailovsky and her husband Eric Baker found Batman him on the streets of Berlin as graduate students in 1999. He returned with the couple to the United States in 2001, and was happy and healthy until he had a series of seizures in 2008.

A tumor was diagnosed and Batman ended up at the University of Minnesota, where Dr. Elizabeth Pluhar, a veterinary surgery professor, and John Ohlfest, a pediatrics professor, had been considering an experimental brain tumor treatment for about three years.

Batman underwent the procedure — which, though it had been tried on mice, had never used on a dog before. Surgeons removed most of Batman’s tumor, much of which was then used to make a vaccine for the dog.  A year later the tumor was gone.

The experimental treatment could someday help people with the same disease.

“The study now has many more dogs in various stages of treatment and recovery, and they are steadily moving toward developing the protocol for human trials,” Brailovsky said.

To keep Batman’s memory, she and her family created a website that tells his story and features a university-made video on his treatment:

 

“Every dog is special to his family, but we were extremely fortunate that Batman’s life also had an impact on the lives of many others,” the website says.

“In the 18 months following the surgery and vaccine protocol, Batman was almost entirely back to his normal,  self, and we cherished every extra trip to the park and every extra cuddle on the couch that the experimental treatment had granted us. It was a miraculous gift.

“Unfortunately, curing the brain tumor did not get rid of the seizures originally caused by the tumor growth. With his indefatiguable spirit, Batman repeatedly recovered from the aftermath of a half-dozen serious grand mal episodes that left him temporarily blind and weakened for hours, sometimes days, at a time. He always bounced back as strong and healthy as ever, and we are deeply saddened that our miraculous survivor has finally ran out of second chances.

“On Wednesday, January 13, 2010 Batman suffered a prolonged series of seizures (and likely a stroke) that left him with severe muscle damage and immobolized him for several days. A fighter to the last, he was beginning to regain his strength and appetite when he was suddenly overcome by rapidly progressing pneumonia on the morning of January 18…

“It was a heartbreaking decision, but we had to let him go. He died in his favorite place on the couch.”

Zap! Batman’s tumor disappears

p2batmanbIt has been a year since we last checked in on Batman — around the time researchers at the University of Minnesota began an experimental procedure to save him from an aggressive brain tumor.

The 13-year-old shepherd mix had a form of brain cancer called a glioma — the same type of cancer Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy is battling.

University of Minnesota veterinary surgeon G. Elizabeth Pluhar, who has spent the past year caring for Batman, said last week his tumor seems to have disappeared, according to the Associated Press.

“I don’t see any tumor right now,” she says. “Which is wonderful.”

Gliomas are tricky to treat because they send out little tentacles that infiltrate other parts of the brain, and surgery alone usually isn’t sufficient to cure a glioma.

Researchers from the vet school devised a treatment for Batman that began with surgery, followed by gene therapy and a custom-made, anticancer vaccine designed to boost his immune system.

Researcher John Ohlfest, who helped create the new immune therapies, said the vaccine is made up of dead cancer cells from Batman’s tumor that have been enhanced in a way that makes them much more obvious to the dog’s immune system.

Read more »

New therapy treats dogs with their stem cells

A German shepherd named Schultz has been having his own fat cells removed, shipped to San Diego to have the stem cells extracted, then having those injected back into his hips to treat dysplasia.

The experimental therapy, being tested by several veterinarians in western Pennsylvania, is promising, but expensive: Depending on how many joints need injections, the cost ranges from $2,400 to $3,000.

But, as veterinarian Mike Hutchinson, owner of Animal General, points out in a recent Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, that’s still less than half the cost of hip replacement surgery.

“Basically, we make an incision behind the dog’s shoulder and take out a couple teaspoons of fat,” Hutchinson said  “We pack it up and ship it to Vet-Stem, they separate out the stem cells, send them back to us and we inject the cells back into the dog, where he needs them.”

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