Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of 10. Currently, three main types of cancer treatment exist for dogs and cats – surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. These treatments are used either alone or in combination to eliminate cancer cells from the body. Despite these treatments, some cancer cells usually survive leading to disease relapse or progression. Unfortunately, most patients usually die of relapsed, drug-resistant metastatic disease.
Another type of therapy that is rapidly gaining attention in the treatment of cancer in people is immunotherapy. In this therapeutic approach, the patient’s own immune system is used to target and kill cancer cells in the body.
Dr. Nicola Mason B.Vet.Med., PhD, DACVIM (Internal Medicine), associate professor at Penn Vet, runs a translational research laboratory that focuses on ways to train the immune system to recognize and kill cancers in veterinary species.
Most of Dr. Mason’s current work focuses on the use of “cancer vaccines” in dogs with lymphoma or osteosarcoma. The goal of these vaccines is to “kick start” the immune system so that it will recognize cancer cells and kill them.
Furthermore, by using the immune system, it is hoped that such vaccines will stimulate immune “memory,” meaning that if and when the cancer does return, the immune system will recognize the cancer cells again and eliminate them.
Dr. Mason’s work not only helps bring novel effective immunotherapies into the canine cancer clinics but also has important translational relevance for human patients suffering from similar cancers.