A Massey veterinary cancer researcher has been granted $20,000 to study the effect of the drug thalidomide on cancer in dogs.
The Palmerston North Medical Research Foundation is funding the trial by Dr Jonathan Bray, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences.
Dr Bray says the trial – on 20 dogs over a year – will look at whether thalidomide can help stop the spread of secondary cancer in dogs.
“A certain type of cancer – haemangiosarcoma – is very common in dogs and is usually fatal,” he says. “While we can remove initial tumours in surgery, it is the secondary cancer that proves fatal, usually within 1-2 months.”
Thalidomide may be the ideal drug to combat the disease, as it has proven effective in managing other cancers such as multiple myeloma, which affects the plasma cells in bone marrow.
“The drug stops the growth of blood cells, which means it could be ideal in controlling the metastatic lesions that were not detectable during surgery. It is from these lesions that most dogs eventually die.”
To date there is only anecdotal evidence that the drug may work, and this world-first study will hopefully provide definitive proof.
Dr Bray says he understands the negative connotations that are attached to thalidomide. Its use as a treatment for morning sickness in the early 1960s led to a significant number of birth defects worldwide.
“However, in the past few years the drug has shown to be very effective when used correctly"
Dr Bray is seeking 20 dogs with soft tissue cancer to be involved in the study.