Missy is a five-pound Chihuahua who will stand up to any dog, small or large. “She doesn’t even take anything off Pit Bulls,” says her owner, Mary Terry. “She is fearless.”
Terry found Missy wandering the mean streets of a big city in bad condition, malnourished, with kidney and eye infections. She rescued the little dog, took her to the veterinarian, and Missy has been her constant sidekick ever since. “She has become very sweet since I brought her home,” says Terry. “She is great with my clients -- the best real estate assistant I could ask for.”
Last winter, Missy’s veterinarian diagnosed her with a mammary tumor. Terry was devastated. “She is like my daughter,” she says. Terry decided to investigate all options for treatment and took Missy to the hospital at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. They referred her to the oncology clinical trials program at the OSU Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, and Terry decided it was worth the trip. “It was her best shot at a long life,” she says.
Clinical trials are controlled tests of new or experimental medical treatments to assess effectiveness and potential side effects. Participation in a clinical trial allows a patient access to new treatment before it is widely available. In addition, there may be financial incentives for enrolling in a clinical trial. In Missy’s case, Terry also liked the idea that they would be contributing to medical science.
Extensive laboratory research precedes the start of a clinical trial. The treatment that Missy received was available as a result of research in the OSU College of Pharmacy. They developed a tiny, glowing nanoparticle that can be injected intravenously. The nanoparticle attaches itself to cancer cells, allowing surgeons to see the tumor and know exactly what tissue needs to be removed. The nanoparticle is also designed to heat up under infrared laser and destroy any remaining tumor cells. In laboratory tests on mice with ovarian tumors, the OSU College of Pharmacy was able to eradicate their cancer.
Missy is the first patient to have a tumor removed in this clinical trial of the glowing nanoparticles. Fourth-year student Paige Ganster was on surgery rotation at the time. “I was able to scrub into her surgery and to see the nanoparticles highlighted on the special viewer,” she says. Ganster was also in charge of Missy’s post-operative care, and has kept in touch with the family.
The Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital is currently enrolling other dogs with mammary cancer in this clinical trial. Why mammary cancer only? “The clinical trials were designed for dogs with mammary cancer in order to create a controlled study. Whenever you are developing a new treatment you want to start with relatively simple and uniform scenarios and limit variables that could confound your results,” says veterinary surgeon Dr. Milan Milovancev. However, Milovancev says this new procedure may be most beneficial for treating tumors in challenging anatomic areas like the brain and spine.
The oncology service at the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital is a member of a network of veterinary colleges conducting cancer clinical trials, under the management of the National Institute for Health, with a goal of collecting data that may also improve human medicine. That makes Missy a pint-sized pioneer.
Missy has recovered from her surgery with no complications, and is back at work helping her mom sell houses. Mary Terry is very optimistic that she and her assistant will be together for many years ahead, and she is also proud that they made a contribution to medical science. “I’m happy we helped improve cancer treatment for all animals,” she says.