When you think about cancer research, a 90-pound pit bull terrier probably doesn't come to mind. But a Johns Creek dog named Petey has become something of a cancer pioneer. He's testing a treatment that may one day help both dogs and humans.
When Petey was diagnosed, his owners were told he didn't have much time left and that the standard treatment wouldn't stop the cancer. So they signed him up to be the first dog at the University Of Georgia College Of Veterinary Medicine to try a new treatment.
What happened next has given everyone involved with the study -- and Petey -- hope.
At almost 9 years old, Petey is getting up there in dog years, but he sure doesn't act like it.
"He's happy, he's Mr. Personality. He's playful, he's got lots of energy, and you'd never know that he'd ever had a problem," Petey's owner, Alex Frame, said.
In the summer of 2011, Petey did have a problem. Frame says he started having seizures and would cry out in pain at night. A brain scan showed a glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer that's very similar to the type doctors see in humans.
"It was a very large tumor, it was taken up nearly a third the size of his brain," said Dr. Simon Platt.
The cancer is relentless; you can take it out, but it almost always grows back.
"If I had taken him in to have the tumor removed and gone the chemotherapy route, he might have been given four to six months before he would have been put down anyway," Frame said.
The Frames took a chance on a new study at the University of Georgia's School of Veterinary Medicine.
Veterinary neurologist Simon Platt was working with Winship Cancer Institute neurosurgeon Costas Hadjipanas on a new drug combination. They were taking cituximab, which is used to treat other types of cancer in humans, and attaching it to iron nanoparticles that would guide the drug right to its target. They needed Petey to test it.
In September of 2011, Dr. Platt removed Petey's tumor and then attached a small pump to drip the test medication into the cavity left behind.
Petey's seizures stopped.
At seven months, an MRI found no re-growth.
A year and a half later, Petey came back. Dr. Platt saw scar tissue, but no tumor.
It's now been two years, and Petey recently returned to UGA.
"We did the MRI scan, and there is now a small area where the tumor looks like it's coming back," Platt said. "It doesn't look like it's doing too much damage to the brain, but, regardless, the tumor looks like it's coming back."
It's hard news, but Platt says Petey's had two years that no one could have expected, and this story isn't over.
"We have no reason to believe he won't go on for another good six months with the quality of life he's got right now," Platt said. "So, at this time, still a great success for us, and for Petey and his family."
Frame says he'll take what comes gratefully for his dog.
"Every day is a gift with him, and you could probably say that if you had a loved one, who had a lease on life given back to them," Platt said.
The question now is can Petey's results be reproduced in other dogs. The UGA-Emory team hopes to do this same surgery in 30 dogs.
Recently, the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation game the team a grant to push forward with this research.
So far, Petey is doing really well has no symptoms that his tumor is growing back.