Two important game-changing clinical trials are being conducted at universities in opposite ends of the country. Hundreds of dogs have been recruited to take part. And while each study is tackling a different disease, both the canine cancer vaccine and synthetic osteoarthritis injection show promise for humans and dogs.
Here’s a snapshot of what’s taking place at Arizona State University and Cornell University as researchers test two revolutionary concepts.
Preventing cancer with a vaccine
The Canine Cancer Vaccine study is being called the world’s largest clinical trial for cancer research. More than 800 dogs have been enrolled in the $6.4 million trial.
The vaccine was developed by Stephen Johnston, Arizona State University scientist and professor. He came up with the idea nearly 12 years ago when he decided to invent “something important in cancer.” He decided a vaccine to prevent the disease would be the “ultimate invention.”
The vaccine in clinical trials targets the eight major cancers found in dogs. The goal of the study is to determine whether dogs who receive the vaccine develop fewer tumors than the normal population of canines.
Here’s how the vaccine works
The vaccination works in the same way the flu vaccine helps your body ward off influenza each year. It prepares the body to defend itself if its attacked. The vaccine is made up of protein found in cancer cells. When dogs are injected, it causes their immune system to “flag the proteins as a threat” and then it gets the body ready to fight against cancer at a later time. It boosts the immune response before tumors develop.
David Vail, a professor and board-certified oncologist at the University of Wisconsin Madison said, “When the virus infects you (or your dog), the immune cells recognize it and go out and kill it.”
Dogs in the study
Each of the 800 dogs in the trial are healthy cancer-free. They range in age from 6-10 years old and participate through universities in various parts of the country. Dogs are randomly given the vaccine or a placebo.
After the injection, the participants will be examined 2 – 3 times a year for the next 5 years. If the study is successful with dogs developing fewer tumors, a second clinical trial will begin for humans.
Professor Johnston’s ultimate goal is to make the cancer vaccine available to everyone – humans and animals.
Improving joint damage with a synthetic lubricant
The second study is being conducted at Cornell University. It’s the brainchild of David Putman, professor in the College of Engineering. He’s working with the College of Veterinary Medicine to test his theory that a synthetic lubricant can restore damaged joints.
Professor Putman developed an artificial version of the naturally occurring lubricant that adheres to the surface of cartilage. It acts as a cushion to arthritic joints. It’s especially beneficial during high impact activities like when your dog is running and playing.
Dogs and people lose the natural lubricant, called lubricin, as we age or after an injury.
The clinical trial
Lubrisynth™ is the name of the synthetic lubricant. It’s designed to reduce pain and improve mobility without the use of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Dogs with a history of elbow dysplasia who had an arthroscopy procedure are eligible for the program. They undergo a CT scan, under sedation, to confirm their osteoarthritis. Then fluid is drawn from each elbow. And next one elbow is injected with the synthetic lubricant while the other elbow receives a placebo injection.
Dogs will be evaluated 2 weeks after the procedure and again at 4, 8,12 and 26 weeks.
The trial is being funded by the National Institutes of Health. If it shows promise a follow up study will be conducted for people.
If you would like information about enrolling your dog in the trial, contact Ursula Krotscheck, DVM, DACVS and Kei Hayashi, DVM, PhD, DACVS at Cornell.