Major breakthrough in cancer treatment
could save the lives of millions of dogs
Researchers believe they may have developed the biological equivalent of a smart bomb that could extend or save the lives of millions of dogs suffering from cancer - a discovery which also could potentially change the way the disease is treated in humans.
Four dogs with advanced, aggressive forms of cancer and on the verge of death are now in remission after taking a drug called nitrosylcobalamin (NO-Cbl), which is able to sneak undetected into cancer cells and destroy them from within.
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Bauer and his research colleagues detailed the extraordinary achievement recently at the 237th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Salt Lake City.About six million dogs are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The Morris Animal Foundation of Denver - which has launched a global campaign to raise $30 million money to find a cure for cancer in dogs in the next 10 to 20 years - says one in four dogs die of cancer, and the disease is the number one cause of death in dogs over age 2. Some of the most popular breeds are especially susceptible to cancer. Sixty percent of Golden Retrievers die of the disease.
The first dog treated with nitrosylcobalamin, a 10-year-old Bichon Frise named Oscar, was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of cancer called anal sac adenocarcinoma. The dog, bedridden and unresponsive to chemotherapy or radiation, was give a survival time of three months at best. But the dog's cancer receded after he began taking nitrosylcobalamin and he was walking again within two weeks.
Since then, the other dogs treated with the drug are doing well. A 6-year old Golden Retriever named Buddy was unable to walk due to a spinal tumor pinching nerves leading to his right hind leg. After nine months of daily treatment with the drug, Buddy's tumor shrank by 40 percent and he was going on two-mile walks. A 13-year-old female Giant Schnauzer with inoperable thyroid carcinoma also showed tumor reductions of 77 percent in less than 10 weeks.
"This is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my life," said Bauer, who owns a 2-year old Beagle. "It gets boring working in the lab, but to see the fruits of your labor in a positive outcome like this and to know you're responsible in some small way, that's pretty cool."
Nitrosylcobalamin targets cancer cells with "biological Trojan horse technology." A Trojan horse is a damage-causing substance hidden in something apparently harmless.
Cells have receptors for vitamin B12 on their outer surface. The receptors serve as docking ports where molecules of the vitamin, essential for cells to divide and multiply, attach and then enter the cell.
Cancer cells grow extra B12 receptors - 100 times more than normal cells - in order to divide at their abnormally rapid pace. Scientists have been trying since the 1950s to exploit that vulnerability and make B12-based drugs that attach to the receptors, sneak into the cell and deliver medication.
Bauer and his colleagues attached molecules of nitric oxide, which kills cancer cells, to vitamin B12. The B12 acts as the Trojan horse, easily slipping into unsuspecting cancer cells. The subsequent release of toxic nitric oxide destroys the cancer cells from within.
"We are one of the few research groups that is offering to treat dogs with cancer that otherwise have no hope," Bauer said. "With no other options available, most people in this situation opt to euthanize so that their pets don't go through the pain of disease and trauma of surgery."
Bauer's goal is to successfully treat 10 dogs with nitrosylcobalamin and slingshot the drug into human use as soon as possible. "[Dogs] breathe the same polluted air and drink the same polluted water that you and I do every day. If you can find an agent to treat cancer that occurs in a dog with success, there is a higher likelihood that you can take that to the human population and have a much higher response rate than with mice."
Bauer says his approach should have a much better chance of getting through the FDA's strict drug approval chain because of the genetic similarity between dogs and humans.
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But Bauer stresses he wants to get the nitrosylcobalamin dog treatment approved, too. "I'm committed to the animals, and my goal would be to do a dual clinical trial, Phase One human and Phase One dog," he said.