Pit bull's treatment could aid humans with brain tumors

FOX Medical Team

Pit bull's treatment could aid humans with brain tumors

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What can a pit bull named Petey tell us about brain cancer? Apparently a lot. The Alpharetta dog was the first in the country to try an experimental new treatment for brain tumors, and that's when things really got interesting.
When you think about cancer research, you probably don't think of a big old pit bull taking a nap on the kitchen floor. But when it comes to our brains, people and dogs have a lot in common.

We develop brain cancer at about the same rate. We have the same types of tumors and share the same problem: if you take the tumor out, it almost always grows back. That's why what's happening inside Petey's head gives researchers so much hope.

Alex and Mary Beth Frame say that Petey, a 90-pound pit bull, is a gentle dog.

"He likes to snuggle with you, he likes to lay down next to you -- he's a touchy feely dog from that standpoint," said Alex Frame.

And the Frames are so tight with Petey because they came so close to losing him.

It started in the summer of 2011. Alex and Petey had just come home from a walk.

"It was kind of a hot day and he was drinking water. At first, I thought he was choking on the water, and he fell over and had a seizure," said Alex Frame.

A week later, it happened again. And at night, Petey began to howl in pain.

"That was the toughest thing, was to hear him howling.  It kind of breaks your heart, to hear the dog sit there and suffer," Alex Frame said.

The Frames took Petey to the University of Georgia's School of Veterinary Medicine to see neurologist Dr. Simon Platt.  He ordered an MRI of Petey's brain.

The news wasn't good; not only did he have a tumor, but he had a large brain tumor.
"I was devastated. I mean I knew that he was sick, but I couldn't believe how big the tumor was," Alex Frame said.

The Frames didn't have a lot of options. If they did nothing, Petey would survive maybe a few weeks, the vet said.  But even with the most aggressive treatment, he probably would only survive a few months.

Emory neurosurgeon Dr. Costas Hadjipanayis sees the same thing in his brain cancer patients. He can take their tumors out and buy them time -- usually about a year -- but brain cancer in unrelenting.

"With the malignant brain tumor, specifically glioblastoma, virtually all those tumors re-grow back.  And most of those tumors re-grow back within the area of the initial site," Hadjipanayis said.

At Emory's Winship Cancer Institute, Dr. Hadjipanayis and his team are trying to find a way to slow down the cancer cells.

In their lab, they've taken the human cancer drug Cituximab and bound it to iron oxide nanoparticles. They're like tiny magnetized delivery trucks that carry the cancer drug directly to the malignant cells, steering clear of the healthy cells.

But Dr. Hadjipanayis needed someone to test it.

That's where Petey comes in. The researchers wanted the dog try it.  

"Really being transparent about the fact it may offer him nothing.  But we were at least certain that it wouldn't hurt him," Platt said.
First, Dr. Platt surgically removed Petey's tumor. Then, for three days in ICU, the test medication was dripped directly into his brain where his tumor had been.

The seizures stopped.
"Within a month or two, his personality was right back the way it was," Alex Frame said.

Seven months later, Petey had another MRI.

"We were stunned at that time that seven months, we saw limited regrowth to no regrowth," Platt said.

After almost a year and half, Petey returned UGA Vet School for another scan of his brain.  

"I think we did, in our heart of hearts, believe that we would see a large re-growth of tumor at this stage, even though he's been doing so well," Platt said.

Physically, Petey looked good, but Platt needed to see more.

"And we wanted to know just how far is this treatment able to go," Platt said.

Petey was placed under general anesthesia and carried into the scanner.
"We're looking to see has it grown back? What size is it?" Platt said.

Petey had scar tissue, but no tumor re-growth. Platt has never seen any treatment do this.

"This is something which, for us is amazing to be able to offer," Platt said.

"We were real happy, we were real, real happy.  Kind of wanted to jump up and down," Alex Frame said.

Petey may be a scientific breakthrough, or he may just be a lucky dog because for now, he's not going anywhere.

The American Kennel Club just gave Dr. Platt and his team a grant to test this treatment on 15 more dogs with brain tumors.

Dr. Hadjipanayis says if they're able to duplicate these results, they may be able to begin clinical trials in humans within a couple of years.

Since his surgery, Petey has had no symptoms, and no seizures.
Petey is one of five dogs to try this treatment. Another Louisiana dog is doing well 15 months after surgery. Unfortunately, the other three dogs passed away.

Dr. Platt says he was hoping to buy Petey just a few more months. He's now at 17 months and doing really well.

For pet owners who want to learn more about the UGA Vet School study on dogs with brain tumors, visit http://www.vet.uga.edu/hospital/services/neurology_neurosurgery/boo_radley

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