Dr. Mason's Canine Cancer Studies

More than 10,000 dogs are diagnosed each year with osteosarcoma, primarily affecting the large and giant breeds, such as racing greyhounds, Rottweilers and Great Danes. These cancers most often affect the long bones in the limbs. Golden Retriever, Nicola Mason's cancer studies

Penn Vet Assistant Professor Dr. Nicola Mason,  VBetMed, PhD, DACVIM, who has studied cancer and immunotherapy for more than 15 years, has found a marked similarity in tumors between dogs and humans.

"If you go to gene expression at the molecular level, tumors in dogs and humans are almost identical," she said. "If you take a bone tumor from a dog and a child, you could not tell which is which."

Dr. Mason studies the immune response in both health and disease, with the goal of harnessing the power of the immune system to specifically target and kill malignant cells and provide long-term immunological memory against cancer antigens to prevent tumor recurrence. What makes her work unique is that she studies cancer and related immunotherapy trials in patients through clinical trials, and she has joined forces with researchers at Penn Med to evaluate cell-based immune therapy approaches in dogs with spontaneous cancers including lymphoma and osteosarcoma.

Areas of Focus

Focusing on canine cancer, Dr. Nicola Mason and her team of researchers are currently developing novel approaches to generate functional, tumor-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes.

Active immunization using whole tumor RNA

  • One approach involves active immunization using whole tumor RNA loaded CD40 activated B cells, aimed at activating tumor specific T cells in vivo.

Passive adoptive transfer

  • 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.

Identifing novel tumor-associated antigens

  • 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.

Canine Cancer Studies in the News

Dr. Mason's canine cancer studies have appeared in the media. Here are some recent articles:

Early Detection

Recently, Dr. Mason launched a new study, "Bone Cancer Vaccine Now Being Evaluated for Dogs with Osteosarcoma Without Amputation."

Denali, a 10-year-old Italian Spinoni, is taking part in this clinical trial. Read Denali's story.

Status: Enrollment for this trial is now complete and the trial is closed.


Bone Cancer Study

Sasha, first dog to receive cancer vaccine

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

Status: Enrollment is closed. Phase I of this clinical trial is now complete, and we are no longer enrolling patients.

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)).