Dr. Mason's Canine Cancer Studies

Focusing on canine cancer, Dr. Nicola Mason and her team of researchers focus on developing novel approaches to generate functional, tumor-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes. One approach involves active immunization using whole tumor RNA loaded CD40 activated B cells, aimed at activating tumor specific T cells in vivo.

A second approach involves the passive adoptive transfer of genetically modified autologous T cells that are capable of MHC-independent tumor antigen recognition and activaton/effector function in the absence of co-stimulatory ligands.

A second related focus of Dr. Mason’s lab is to identify novel tumor-associated antigens and to develop single-chain fragment variable targeting systems that can be used alone or in concert with cell based therapies to target spontaneous occurring tumors. Through innovative clinical trials in canine cancer patients, the lab works in concert with clinical oncologists to evaluate the safety and efficacy of both active immunization and passive adoptive transfer of genetically modified T cells in the treatment of spontaneously occurring cancer.

Sasha, first dog to receive cancer vaccine

Mason Bone Cancer Study

Evaluation of a recombinant bacteria vaccine to treat bone cancer in dogs

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to determine whether a recombinant L. Dr. Mason bone cancer studymoncytogenes vaccine can elicit anti-tumor immunity and prolong survival in dogs with cancer of their long bones (appendicular osteosarcoma (OSA)).


Enrollment criteria and baseline evaluation of patients

  • We are actively recruiting patients for a pilot study to determine the safety and efficacy of a new bacteria based vaccine to stimulate an immune response against osteosarcoma and prolong survival in dogs with bone cancer. Only those dogs with a histological diagnosis of osteosarcoma and who have undergone limb amputation and standard chemotherapy (4 doses of carboplatin) for the treatment of osteosarcoma will be eligible for inclusion in the study. In addition, only those patients whose tumors express the target antigen “Her-2/neu” will be eligible for inclusion in this study.

    Up to 18 privately owned dogs with long bone cancer (appendicular OSA) and confirmed expression of Her2-neu will be enrolled. At enrollment (3 weeks following the last dose of carboplatin chemotherapy), all eligible dogs will receive basic clinical laboratory tests including a Complete Blood Count (CBC), Chemistry Screen (CS) and urinalysis (UA) and a baseline evaluation of cardiac function by echocardiography and measurement of cardiac-specific Troponin I (cTnI) levels. Thoracic radiographs will be taken to determine whether pulmonary metastases are present. At the time of enrollment, a blood sample will be taken to assess immune function and baseline levels of anti-tumor immunity.

L.m recombinant treatment

  • All dogs will be vaccinated, there is no placebo control. The first vaccine will be given three weeks after the last dose of routine chemotherapy. Patients will receive a total of 3 vaccines given three weeks apart. Patients will stay in the hospital for 48 hours following vaccine administration for observation.

What the study pays for

  • The study pays for the following:

    • Complete staging of disease at the time of enrollment (includes CBC, CS, UA, immune function assessment, thoracic radiographs, cardiac evaluation)
    • Three vaccines
    • Hospitalization for observation
    • CBC, CS, UA and cardiac evaluation every three weeks for a total of 9 weeks
    • Routine staging every 2 months following last vaccine administration (includes CBC, CS, UA, immune assessment, thoracic radiographs, cardiac evaluation)

Contact Us

  • If you are interested in learning more about this study, please contact the Prinicipal Investigator:
  • Dr. Nicola Mason, PhD
  • Phone: 215-898-3996
    Email: nmason@vet.upenn.edu

About Sasha

  • Dr. Nicola Mason, an Assistant Professor of Medicine in collaboration with Advaxis Inc. is currently evaluating the first vaccine for canine osteosarcoma. This approach harnesses the power of the dog’s immune system, “training” it to seek out and destroy cancer cells that remain after amputation and Sashachemotherapy. In a phase I clinical trial, dogs are being recruited to determine the safety and efficacy of a genetically modified Listeria vaccine to prolong survival.

    Just like many other students this January, Sasha is returning to Penn! Still as happy as ever, this 12 and a half year old American bulldog runs, jumps, swims and catches frisbees – all on three legs! Sasha was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a highly aggressive bone cancer in March of 2012. The prognosis for this disease is guarded at best and dogs that undergo amputation followed by chemotherapy, the standard of care for this disease, have a median survival of only 1 year. Most dogs die as a result of cancer metastases (spread) to their lungs or other bones.

    Sasha was the first of six dogs that have received the experimental vaccine so far. All dogs tolerated the vaccine well with no significant short or long-term side effects. To date one dog that received a low dose of the vaccine has developed lung metastases. All other dogs, including Sasha, remain free of cancer at this time.

    “Although it is too early yet to determine whether the vaccine prolongs overall survival in patients with this highly aggressive disease, we can conclude that the vaccine appears to be safe and well tolerated. This is a very important first step” Mason says. “Given the safety of the vaccine at the current doses used, we are extending the study and continuing to enroll patients.”

    This study represents a very exciting new approach to the treatment of a disease in which the abysmal prognosis has remained unchanged for several decades. Mason expects that within the next year they will have preliminary data that will determine the merit of this approach for delaying or preventing metastatic disease. If they confirm safety and demonstrate efficacy in this group of dogs Mason plans to extend the studies into a phase II clinical trial in a larger group of dogs that should begin in the Fall of 2013.
  • Sasha is the first dog to receive this cancer vaccine. You can follow her progress on a blog written by her owners Carlos and Liliana Ruano.
  • Follow Sasha's Progress...
  • Learn more about Advaxis Inc.

Mason Golden Retriever Study

The Mason lab at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine is investigating the Golden Retriever, Nicola Mason's cancer studiespossibility that a gammaherpesvirus can infect dogs and may contribute to lymphoma. The virus is thought to be highly similar to Epstein-Barr Virus that infects the majority of humans.

In most humans, infection is asymptomatic (no clinical signs), but in a very small subset of people, the virus is associated with lymphomas. Mason’s lab has shown that some dogs (like people) can be infected with an EBV-like virus and that this appears to be associated with lymphoma in some cases (Evidence of an oncogenic gammaherpesvirus in domestic dogs. Huang et al. Virology. 2012 Mar 7).

Using a relatively simple blood test, Mason’s lab can determine whether dogs have been exposed to an EBV-like virus. They now aim to screen approximately 500 healthy Golden Retriever dogs between 6 and 8 years of age to determine whether they are infected with the virus.

Participating dogs will be evaluated every 6 months for 2 years to determine whether the presence of increasing amounts of virus and antibodies to the virus predicts which dogs many go on to develop lymphoma.

The study aims to provide very important information about a possible environmental cause of cancer and may lead to future anti-viral therapies for cancer. This study is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

We invite All Owners of Golden Retrievers to Take Part in This Study

All owners of healthy Golden Retrievers are invited to participate in an unprecedented study to investigate the possibility that a particular virus (a gammaherpesvirus) can infect Golden Retriever dogs and that this infection contributes to the development of lymphoma in some dogs.


  • If you have a healthy Golden Retriever dog that has not been previously diagnosed with cancer, and is between 6 and 8 years of age you may be eligible to participate in this study.
  • Complete information regarding the study and study eligibility can be found on the consent form (download below).

Samples Required for the Study

  • The study involves taking a blood sample from your dog once every six months for two years.

    If your dog develops lymphoma while on the study, a biopsy of the malignant lymph node tissue will be taken and used to confirm the diagnosis and determine whether this virus is involved in the tumor.

    Blood samples and lymph node biopsies can be taken at your local veterinarian and sent to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

    About Costs: Please note that we do not have funds to cover any costs associated with visits to your veterinarian or costs associated with lymph node biopsies or blood samples. Funds are available to pay for shipping of samples to UPenn from your local veterinarian and for all laboratory tests that look for the virus in the blood and in any tumor tissue.

Study Participant Information and Forms for Golden Retriever Dogs

  • If you would like to participate in the study, please download:

    >> Consent form (PDF)

    >> Examination form and sample submission instructions (PDF)

    Take these to your veterinarian. Please complete the consent form and ask your veterinarian to complete the examination form.

    Both forms should be submitted to UPenn with your samples.

    All samples should be sent overnight to the following address:

    Attention: Dr. Nicola Mason
    Room 335, Hill Pavilion
    University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
    380 South University Avenue
    Philadelphia, PA 19107

    Contact Information

  • Golden Retriever owners may also contact:

  • Rhonda Hovan (GRCA Health Committee member)
    Phone: 330-668-0044 or 330-338-4236 (cell)
    Email: RhondaHovan@aol.com.

Additional Resources