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A new twist on an old partnership

Conquest - Fall 2012

Humans and canines join forces against lymphoma


By Claudia Giertz

Man’s — and woman’s — best friend may have more than friendship to offer his or her human counterpart. A new study using T-cell therapy to treat companion canines with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) could be a key to discovering better ways to treat humans with cancer.

Cheyenne is still in complete remission two 
years after T-cell infusion.
Photo: Michelle Mortage

T-cell is a type of white blood cell that plays a vital role in the immune system by helping protect the body from disease. In the study, a dog’s T-cells are first extracted before chemotherapy, which is intended to treat canine cancer, but inadvertently damages the immune system. Next, the cells are grown to large numbers and injected back into the dog after it has finished the chemotherapy. 

By infusing it with its own T-cells, the dog’s body can ward off remaining cancer cells without further treatment.

“We developed this idea after observing clinical data that showed the faster the human T-cells recovered after chemotherapy, the better the patient’s prognosis,” says Colleen O’Connor, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at 
MD Anderson’s Children’s Cancer Hospital (CCH) and an investigator on the trial. “Thus, we tried infusing large numbers of healthy T-cells back into the dog to help the immune system recover after chemotherapy."

The trial, undertaken in collaboration with Heather Wilson-Robles, D.V.M., assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is proving successful and yielding new insights into the disease. Most dogs with NHL, unfortunately, only live up to 10 months after their diagnosis and treatment. However, two of the dogs treated with T-cell therapy have been in complete remission for two years post T-cell therapy, and most of the others have lived well past the 10-month period.

This T-cell therapy isn’t restricted to lymphoma, however.

“The power of this study is that it can be used for all types of cancer,” says Laurence Cooper, M.D., Ph.D., professor and section chief of pediatric T-cell therapy at CCH and the study’s senior author.

“In the near future, we’re interested in targeting other malignancies, such as brain tumors and bone cancers using this approach as a platform.”

Canine and humans have been living together for 15,000 years, sharing the same environment, food and types of cancer. Now, their partnership could lead to new and innovative ways of treating cancer.

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