They tug at our heartstrings – pets are treasured family members for many.
Stacy Attenberg kisses her cat saying, “There’s no way I was losing him.”
She rescued the orange tabby off the streets three years ago.
6-year-old Sergio has since captured her heart.
Anxiety, though, set in after this discovery, “I found a big lump on the back of his leg,” she said.
Sergio’s veterinarian confirmed, it was cancer.
Ashley Kalinauskas CEO of Torigen Pharmaceuticals CEO says, “Over 8 million dogs and 8 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer this year in the United States and over 50 percent of all dogs over the age of ten will die from cancer.”
With few treatment options for man’s four-legged friends, the Farmington, Conn. company is developing an experimental therapy for those with solid tumors.
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It is personalized immunotherapy for animals, based partially on the ongoing research for humans.
“How can we have the body train the immune system to fight the cancer as foreign?” asks Kalinauskas.
Researchers here are taking a portion of the tumor to create a breakthrough cancer vaccine that gobbles up cancer cells.
She pointed to the monitor, saying, “The cells we are showing here are the good guys, these are the good type of immune cells. And what we are able to show is that the vaccine is able to be uptaked by this in order to provide a really great strong immune system, an immune response, to stimulate the body against the cancer. And so they go out.”
Dr. Kristine Matz with Animal Medical Care of Connecticut is among a growing number of vets signing on to this possible cancer cure.
“It holds so much promise without having a lot of the negative side effects that we could see with our traditional approaches,” she explains.
The exploratory approach Dr. Matz says is a viable option, especially when surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are not as effective.
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Sergio had his leg amputated and was injected with the vaccine, using his own tumor cells.
“When I knew the other options were chemotherapy and radiation, I said there was no way I’m doing that to him because I knew how damaging the effects of chemo and radiation can be,” Attenberg says. “I actually lost my mother to cancer, so I was not going to do that to him.”
Dr. Matz adds, “It may truly significantly create more of a remission, hopefully a cure, but even if it’s not a cure, a prolonged remission.”
And there’s more going on in the laboratory.
“We’re looking at different boosters we can do, based on the specific mutations of that patient’s own cancer,” says Kalinauskas.
This, so that people like Stacy Attenberg can hold on to what they’ve grown to cherish.
“He’s incredible, thanks to his immunotherapy, huh? And you love Mama as much as Mama loves you,” she says.
Sergio gets a checkup every six months. So far, there’s no sign of the cancer returning.
More than 250 animals have been treated with a personalized vaccine nationwide.
The results are indeed promising, but this is an experimental treatment, which means it is still not known how safe and effective the vaccine is in the long run.
Animals and humans are similar when it comes to responding to treatment.
The hope is that one day, we can also benefit.