New treatment from KU Cancer Center, successful in dogs, could eliminate need for chemotherapy

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — We call dogs man's best friend, and now the four-legged animals are helping doctors create a new way to fight cancer in humans that could eliminate the need for surgery or chemotherapy.

A treat never tasted better to Remy, a 10-year-old Sheltie.

"She's funny, she's full of life and love and spunk," explained Julie Yoder, the rescued dog's owner.

She said Remy survived being lost for 42 days in central Kansas during winter. Last year, Remy caught another bad break. Yoder found an egg-sized tumor on the dog's forearm.  It turned out to be cancerous.

Enter Dr. Daniel Aires, a dermatologist, not a veterinarian. The University of Kansas Health System physician teamed up with another doctor at the University of Kansas Cancer Center to develop a new approach to fight cancer. 

They are testing it on dogs before humans. The doctors only choose dogs with a naturally occurring cancer, and with the permission of the dog's owner and veterinarian. 
 
"If you can fix a cancer in a pet dog, you are a whole lot closer to fixing a cancer in me," Aires said comparing dogs to lab mice as an example.  

The work takes place under a startup company called HylaPharm, sponsored by the University of Kansas.

Aires' treatment works by changing the way drugs are delivered to cancerous areas. It calls for injecting a drug directly into the tumor. The antibiotic kills cancer cells without hurting good cells. Aires said it could eliminate the need for chemotherapy or surgery. Plus it provides an option to treat tumors located in inoperable areas. 

It worked like a charm for Remy. The dog was cancer-free after one treatment. 

"It's really exciting to be part of that, to think that her results and her reaction and everything with her is eventually to be used in humans. It's a wonderful thing," Yoder said with pride. 

While the treatment is promising, Aires said it's too soon to put a timeline on when he can start testing it on humans.

"We have saved some four-legged lives, and that'll get us into heaven," Aires said with a smile. "We are marching on with saving two-legged lives eventually."

Aires and his group are looking for people who own dogs with cancer to volunteer for this trial. To find out if your pet meets their criteria, call 913-588-3840.

Because this treatment is in a clinical stage, it is free for dogs. Aires said dog owners simply pay their veterinarians a small fee to inject the drug.

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