Dr. Steven Suter, VMD, MS, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM (Oncology), a professor of oncology at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, is using Bone Marrow Transplants (BMT) to treat dogs with Lymphoma. This is the most high tech facility in the country performing this type of procedure. At NC State/CVM, they are performing both Allogenic (or donor) bone marrow transplants as well as Autologous transplants, in which the bone marrow comes form the patient, so a separate donor is not needed.
In the case of two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel brothers, good marrow cells were taken from the healthy brother, Chip, and transplanted into Zeke. This procedure is highly effective, but the problem is that it is often hard to find siblings or parents of most dogs and so finding a match can be difficult. Dr. Suter is hoping his hospitals success will lead to a donor database for dogs, so that canines can have access to this treatment. In the interim, Autologous transplants are becoming increasingly effective.
Firstly, the dog receives high dosage chemotherapy for about 10 days before the BMT, to destroy as many cancer cells in the body as possible. Only dogs who are in remission, and do not have cancer cells floating around their bloodstream, can be treated this way. They are then given a drug called Neupogen, which moves the stem cells from the bone marrow into the peripheral blood where they can be gathered by a special piece of equipment called a leukaphoresis machine. Then, using a tiny tube called a jugular catheter, the harvested stem cells are reintroduced into the bloodstream in a process similar to receiving a blood transfusion. Amazingly, these stem cells naturally know how to find their way back to the bone marrow and immediately begin rebuilding healthy blood cells.
It was the impressive success rate of NCSU’s Bone Marrow Transplant Unit that convinced Kristie and Johnny Sullens that a bone marrow transplant, or BMT, was the best option to try to save their dog, Angel’s, life. The vet’s prognosis was that with chemotherapy alone she would only live 6-12 months, so Kristie and Johnny decided that no matter what it took, they would do whatever necessary to get Angel a bone marrow transplant. For Angel’s family, coming up with so much money in just a few short months was the hardest part, so in order to help raise money for Angel’s treatment, they established a website called Save-An-Angel.org and raised the $16,000 needed for her transplant. Luckily for Angel, she was young, strong, and very healthy in every other respect. The procedure was a success, and after a month of recovery Angel was back to her old self, full of energy and cancer-free. Motivated by Angel’s success and the generosity of others, they decided to turn Save-An-Angel into a full-fledged non-profit organization to provide financial assistance to families of dogs with lymphoma who could benefit from a bone marrow transplant. The hope is that BMT’s will become much more widely available in the next 3-5 years, and the cost will be reduced by at least a third.
40-50% of humans with B-cell lymphoma who undergo this treatment are cured, but the figures detailing the success rate in canines are still not clear. This is partially because the timeline for the procedure to be deemed a success has not yet been clearly determined. Humans are considered to be “cancer-free” five years after treatment, but dogs have shorter life spans to begin with, so Dr. Suter thinks two years of remission after treatment should be considered a success. Since bone marrow transplants are quite new to veterinary medicine, long term clinical results are not yet available, which makes cure rates and average survival times difficult to determine with accuracy, but it is hoped that the success rate in dogs could be similar to that in humans.
While BMT’s have only recently and sparingly become an accepted treatment for dogs, they actually were performed in research environments nearly thirty years ago. There are many similarities between dogs and humans when it comes to cancer, and virtually all of the current human transplant techniques were initially developed using canine subjects. It stands to reason that this groundbreaking procedure should now be used on the species that originally helped develop it.