Dogs Help Test Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer

Dogs are the best.

A study at University of California Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is showing just how far dogs will go to be man’s (and woman’s) best friend. Researchers received the help of dogs to see if inhaling a new immunotherapy treatment could work for lung cancer.

Unfortunately, the dogs in the study all have cancer. Canines can develop osteosarcoma (bone cancer), melanoma (skin cancer) and other cancers that spread to the lungs. Some dogs even get mesothelioma. There were 21 dogs in the study that had either osteosarcoma or melanoma.

Information about this potentially historic study was published in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy for Cancer and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center’s page on Newswise.

“The cancers that afflict dogs, including sarcomas, brain tumors, lymphoma and melanoma, are incredibly similar to cancers that humans develop,” said Dr. Robert Canter, a surgical oncologist at UC Davis Cancer Center.

This story is not the first of dogs helping improve cancer treatment or advance new therapies. A few years ago, a story emerged about dogs detecting non-small-cell lung cancer before patients begin experiencing major symptoms or are medically diagnosed.

How Inhaling IL-15 Can Unlock the Immune System

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer naturally. Certain elements of cancer subdue the immune system’s natural defense system, most notably T cells and natural killer cells (NK cells).

Immunotherapy can override these elements and help the T cells and NK cells fight cancer effectively – and without destroying healthy tissue, like chemotherapy does.

The UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center team gave the 21 dogs – of various breeds – an inhalable treatment that included the protein interleukin-15. This protein is shortened to IL-15.

Higher amounts of IL-15 can stimulate the immune system. Since IL-15 is a “cytokine”, it signals and regulates functions for the immune system.

Since it’s inhaled, the treatment goes directly into the lung cavity. The dogs received the mist two times a day. Researchers began noticing encouraging results within two weeks after starting the treatment. Tumors shrank in two dogs. One of those two dogs went into complete remission from its cancer for more than one year. Five other dogs had a response of stable disease, which means the tumor stopped growing and did not get any worse for several months.

The overall response rate in the 21 dogs was 33%. This response rate likely doesn’t indicate that the treatment can be a standalone option for treating humans with lung cancer. Inhalable IL-15 may pair with other types of immunotherapy that slows tumor growth while unchaining the T cells and NK cells.

“This may help us identify patients that might respond to this therapy, as well as help us understand how to potentially combine other immunotherapies to improve response rates,” said Dr. Robert Rebhun, a canine oncologist with UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“We are grateful to the extremely dedicated clients who sought any and all possible care for their pets, elected to enroll them in this study, and even delivered the inhaled IL-15 to their dogs at home—in hopes that it could benefit their dog , other dogs, or possibly even people with advanced metastatic cancer.”

    Sources & Author

  • Inhaled recombinant human IL-15 in dogs with naturally occurring pulmonary metastases from osteosarcoma or melanoma: a phase 1 study of clinical activity and correlates of response. Journal for Immunotherapy for Cancer. Retrieved from: Accessed: 07/03/2022.

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is the content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin’s objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.

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