In the U.S. alone, there are nearly 700,000 people living with a primary brain tumor. And each year, there are nearly 70,000 new diagnoses and 17,000 deaths.  With over 120 different types of tumors and a tricky blood-brain barrier to permeate, brain tumors are notoriously difficult to treat, and the standard of care hasn’t changed in many years. More than any other type of cancer, brain tumor survivors face motor, cognitive, and psychological challenges.
The University of Alabama is determined to improve upon the existing standard of care. Researchers there, under the direction of Rebecca Chambers, M.D., DVM, are calling on our canine friends to help us get a better understanding of brain tumors. By working with area veterinarians, they are launching one of the first immunotherapy studies in pet dogs.
According to Chambers, tumors in dogs and humans are alike in many ways because they have similar rates in incident and mortality, often present the same way, and are currently treated the same way, with some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation . That our pets share our same environment makes them ideal candidates to study.
Canine study participants will be treated using a viral therapy developed by UAB neurosurgeon, James Markert, M.D., called M032. M032 is a modified version of the herpes simplex virus designed to infect and kill cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue undamaged. After they introduce the virus, investigators will combine this therapy with a checkpoint inhibitor, which is expected to rev up the immune system to kill even more cancer cells. Study investigators will also sequence the canine tumors to predict response or toxicities.
Ultimately, investigators hope that the study will help prolong the lives of our companion pets but also indicate whether an approach with an oncolytic virus, M032, followed by a checkpoint inhibitor, could also work in humans.
For more information, refer to the UAB News article, here.