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Cancer Clinical Trials for Pets: Therapy of the Future, Now

By Dr. Laci Schaible

Cancer is a leading cause of death in older dogs and cats, and clinical trials offer hope that effective anti-cancer medications will be developed -- for humans and our furry friends. The treatment of cancer in animals involves many of the same treatment modalities available in human medicine. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and experimental therapy are different methods aimed at treating cancer in pets and people.

Not many people line their pets up to be a guinea pig, but clinical trials offer hope when the situation otherwise looks bleak. Although considered experimental, effectiveness of the treatment has been proven in laboratory animals and the therapy is considered to be of potential benefit to the patient.

There is another benefit to enrolling your pet in a clinical trial. Not only may your pet benefit, clinical trials help advance human cancer treatment options as well. Because many similar diseases affect people and their animals, a great deal can be learned from studying how treatments work in cats and dogs. Testing the drugs in pets speeds up the process and allows researchers to determine if a medication works before taking it to human clinical trials. With a pet owner's informed consent, new drugs that seem promising can be tried a lot sooner.

The process of voluntary clinical trials is working. A trial in Illinois is studying a drug, PAC-1, that causes cancer cells to self-destruct. After showing promising results in mouse models and recently in dogs with naturally occurring lymphomas and osteosarcomas, the drug is undergoing investigation through the FDA. If it passes, human trials will begin in 2014.

Interested in being a part of this cutting edge medicine? Now it’s easier than ever to find clinical trials your pet may be eligible for. A new team of cancer experts has recently launched a veterinary cancer registry to help match up pets with cancer with clinical trials. The National Veterinary Cancer Registry points pet owners toward clinical trials that might benefit their beloved companions and speed up the development of life-saving therapies for humans. Here is the 411.

How do you get into a clinical trial?

Each clinical trial has very specific qualifications for participation that include things like the pet’s breed, age, weight, and, of course, the type of cancer. While there isn’t a trial for every pet, it doesn’t hurt to see if it is an option.

Are clinical trials free?

Not necessarily. While grant money often funds a clinical trial, it may only be partially funded. In addition, the clinical trial doesn’t come to you. This often involves travel and associated expenses.

Where are trials performed?

Most clinical research trials investigating new methods of cancer diagnosis or treatment are conducted at colleges of veterinary medicine. Clinical trial states currently include: Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

How do you get started?

Simple visit the website. Registration is free and simple. Visit the National Veterinary Cancer Registry for the most current information.

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