Batman Begins! Brain tumors in dogs and their experimental means of destruction
I just read an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution Online on a Lab mix named Batman and his role in the quest for the cure. Yes, in case you haven’t been aware, pet volunteers are sometimes employed in the search for a cure to cancer.
In this case, Batman’s vicious glioma, the kind of tumor Senator Kennedy and my Sophie Sue also have in common, is being treated with a novel technique designed to create an individualized vaccine for the cancer once tumor cells from the mass have been surgically harvested.
That means Batman’s had to go under the knife for a special biopsy. Next, his cells will be grown in a tissue culture and later re-injected into his body in the hopes that an immunological response might crush the remaining cells into submission.
No one knows whether this technique will work—and if it does, for how long. But medical science is hot on the trail for novel ways to kill cancer and this is one path we’ve seen work before.
Take the case of the melanoma vaccine. We know that injecting dogs with this actually works. Sure, not every melanoma patient is a candidate, but the majority of dogs treated thus do respond. Their bodies mount an immune response which kills cancer cells where they hide, limiting the spread of the notoriously nasty melanoma variety of cancer.
On a personal note, I couldn’t help feeling exceptionally envious upon reading of Batman’s entrée into the annals of comparative human-animal medicine. Not only does he enjoy the distinction of being one of the first dogs to undergo this technique, one that may change how the rest of us fight our cancers (dogs and humans alike), he got a free ride in the process.
Sure, Sophie’s cancer isn’t the most surgically amenable (due to its location in the brainstem) and therefore she likely won’t be a candidate in her limited future, but knowing that Batman’s paving the way is enough to take more than a bit of the sting out of Sophie’s comparably low-tech radiation treatments.
You go, Batman! You're our hero!