In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from the University of Missouri have developed a patient specific, precision medicine treatment for bone cancer in dogs. The vaccine treatment, created from the dogs own tumour, can target specific cancer cells and thus avoid the toxic effects of chemotherapy.

“A vaccine is made out of the dog's own tumour for the dog's immune system to recognise,” said Jeffrey Bryan, professor of oncology at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and director of Comparative Oncology Radiobiology and Epigenetics Laboratory. “It's the first time that dogs with osteosarcoma have experienced prolonged survival without receiving chemotherapy, which is really exciting.”

The cancer vaccine was effective in treating osteosarcoma, a cancer which is rare in humans but common in dogs. There are approximately 800-900 new cases of the disease each year, about half of which is diagnosed in children and teenagers. However, for dogs this disease is much more common, with more than 10,000 cases a year occurring in the US Dogs who received the treatment had on average 400 days of remission compared to 270 days for those dogs receiving chemotherapy.

The vaccine used a dogs own lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) which attacked and destroyed tumour cells, thus fighting the cancer. Lymphocytes are immune cells that recognise where pathogens in the body and then kill the cells which harbour them. “These cells are activated and essentially really angry at whatever they are supposed to attack,” said Bryan. “When put back into the body, they should identify and destroy tumour cells.”

The next step for researchers is optimising the use of this therapy in dogs before conducting clinical trials in humans for both osteosarcoma and other cancers. They are currently continuing this work through another immunotherapy trial in progress, funded by a grant from the Morris Animal Foundation through the National Cancer Institute Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium.