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Cancer Care: Clinical Trials & Research

Penn Vet Cancer-Related Clinical Trials

Penn Vet researchers strive to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer in animals through novel therapies that may one day offer cancer patients, canine and human alike, a viable alternative or complementary treatment to traditional therapies.

Mason Lab: Golden Retriever lymphoma study

Apr 24, 2013, 14:33 PM
Short description:
The Mason lab at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine is investigating the possibility that a gammaherpesvirus can infect dogs and may contribute to lymphoma.
The Mason lab at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine is investigating the possibility that a gammaherpesvirus can infect dogs and may contribute to lymphoma, a type of cancer. 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 for Golden Retriever Dogs

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

  • the consent form (PDF)
  • the 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) by telephone at 330-668-0044 or 330-338-4236 (cell) or by e-mail at

Related Resources

Support Canine Cancer Research

If you would like to contribute to canine cancer research in the Mason laboratory, please send your check made payable to the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and note that it should be designated to the Mason Cancer Research Fund. Please mail to:

Office of Advancement
Penn Vet
University of Pennsylvania
3800 Spruce Street, Suite 172E
Philadelphia, PA 19104
  • Dogs

Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center

An important component to providing the finest and most cutting-edge cancer care available to pets is Ryan Hospital’s close working relationship with the Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center (VCIC), converging science and medicine, and transferring the latest research directly to the patient.

Penn Vet, Veterinary Clinical Investigations CenterPenn Vet’s VCIC reaches out to veterinary clinics in the Philadelphia metropolitan area to offer patients access to cutting-edge clinical trials. These trials can offer owners potential diagnostic and treatment options that are not available anywhere else locally or even nationally for their pet. The VCIC provides nursing staff that dedicate 100% of their effort to helping owners and their pets navigate the course of enrolling in a clinical trial, offering them state-of-the-art care, while informing science for the benefit of future generations of pets and people alike.

The veterinary nurses that staff this center are certified veterinary technicians with training in the management of clinical trials including Good Clinical Practice. Through the VCIC, the high volume, high quality veterinary care of Ryan Hospital is integrated with the scientific methodology of clinical trials to design, implement, and analyze veterinary clinical studies unlike any other institution.  

Learn more about the Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center at Penn Vet...

Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program

Penn Vet, Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor ProgramThe goal of the Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program is to advance knowledge of breast cancer in both dogs and humans. Led by Dr. Karin Sorenmo, the program provides care to shelter dogs with mammary tumors that are homeless and without access to the care they need to survive. Penn Vet covers surgery and follow-up care costs and helps facilitate adoption. 

Shelter dogs provide an ideal population for studying mammary tumors because only 10 percent of animals received into shelters have been spayed or neutered. The incidence of mammary tumors in unspayed female dogs is at least four times greater than in spayed dogs.

Mammary tumors in dogs and breast cancer in women have many similarities, both in terms of risk factors and biology. Many of the dogs have multiple tumors, often in different stages of malignant transformation, and therefore provide a unique opportunity to study cancer progression.

Learn more about the Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program at Penn Vet...

Comparative Oncology Program

Penn Vet is a member of the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium (COTC), which is run by the National Cancer Institute and provides access to a wide range of new cancer drugs in the early stages of testing.

The COTC is an active network of twenty academic comparative oncology centers, centrally managed by the NIH-NCI-Center for Cancer Research's Comparative Oncology Program, that functions to design and execute clinical trials in dogs with cancer to assess novel therapies. The goal of this effort is to answer biological questions geared to inform the development path of these agents for future use in human cancer patients.

Cancer Imaging Systems

Penn Vet’s Dr. David Holt has partnered with Penn Medicine to improve detection of surgical margins at the time of surgery to remove soft tissue sarcomas. Dr. Holt currently offers a surgery using dye and special imaging equipment to Ryan Hospital patients. This technique is vital in both veterinary and human surgical oncology to ensure that the entire tumor is resected.

Cancer Immunotherapies

Penn Vet’s proximity to and collaborations with Penn Medicine continue to yield innovative ways to fight cancer. Penn Vet’s Dr. Nicola Mason is working with Penn Medicine on a project to further develop cancer immunotherapies that are already showing promise in both canine and human patients. Immunotherapy describes the use of the body’s immune system to fight disease.

In collaboration with Dr. Yvonne Paterson, Professor of Microbiology at Penn Med, Dr. Mason is evaluating the effects of a genetically modified Her2/Neu-expressing listeria-based vaccine in dogs with an aggressive bone tumor known as osteosarcoma. Despite limb amputation and chemotherapy, 60% of dogs with osteosarcoma die within one year of diagnosis. Dogs with Her2/neu-positive osteosarcoma have traveled to Penn Vet from Ohio, Florida, Louisiana, and Montana to receive this novel therapy. Preliminary data from this trial indicates that the vaccine prolongs survival times when administered to dogs that have undergone amputation and follow-up chemotherapy. These findings may change the paradigm of canine osteosarcoma treatment and provide essential preliminary data to advance this approach in children with osteosarcoma and adults with a variety of different tumor pathologies, including mammary carcinoma.

Dr. Mason’s immunotherapy program also incorporates personalized medicine approaches to canine lymphoma with a soon-to-be launched clinical trial evaluating the effects of a second-generation antigen-presenting cell vaccine for dogs with B-cell lymphoma. This vaccine builds on the published success of a previous Penn Vet clinical trial that showed prolonged survival of dogs with B-cell lymphoma that received this vaccine following successful induction chemotherapy.

Another example of personalized immunotherapy being evaluated in dogs at Penn Vet is a recently launched program to develop genetically modified T-cells that can be adoptively transferred into canine patients to fight different types of cancer including lymphoma and carcinomas. This work is made possible through the generosity of the Richard Lichter Charity for Dogs. The research is in its early stages, but Dr. Mason’s lab has already shown feasibility of the approach using canine constructs, and her team hopes to advance this in canine patients who have failed currently available treatments for lymphoma in the New Year.

Learn more about Dr. Mason's Canine Cancer & Immunotherapy Research at Penn Vet...

Molecular and Cellular Basis for Tumor Growth and Metastasis

Remarkable advances have been made in understanding the molecular pathways that can go awry, leading to the transformation of normal cells to malignant cells. Drugs that target these pathways have been developed and, in a number of cases, have shown clinical efficacy. Important advances in medical, surgical, and radiation oncology have also improved treatment of primary tumors. So why then does cancer remain the second most common cause of death? Malignant cells in primary tumors can prove resistant to therapy and can develop the capacity to escape from the tissue of origin to other tissues and organs – a process known as metastasis, which is the most common cause of cancer-related death. In addition, environmental factors, diet, and aging present risks that contribute to the prevalence of some cancers.

At Penn Vet, Dr. Ellen Puré’s research defines the mechanisms by which the local tumor microenvironment, as well as the systemic response to tumors, can either accelerate or put the brakes on cancer cell growth and metastasis. Once pathways are defined, Dr. Puré develops mechanism-based therapeutic interventions that favor inhibition of tumor growth and metastasis and promote effective anti-tumor immunity. The goal is then to turn these complexities into new treatments for preventing or treating cancer that complement current approaches used in clinical settings.