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Dogs are truly man’s best friend, in more ways than you know

Being across the street in the business school for the past year, I am at a loss for hilarious, touching, or thought provoking vet school stories.  Instead, I have used my time with you to discuss a vet student's view of business school, cool things about Texas A&M, and the less well known functions of a veterinarian.  I figure that when I get back to vet school, I will have so many stories that now is my opportunity to expand your view of veterinary medicine and Texas A&M. I have enjoyed bringing to you tales of research at A&M that has bred goats to produce malaria vaccine in their milk, the role of veterinarians in our food safety and homeland security, or the importance of veterinarians in the public policy making process.  Today, I am going to shift gears and focus on dogs.  Dogs have been the quintessential human company for thousands of years, and thanks to our four legged friends, they may be the key to helping us stay healthier for decades to come.

As I write this, Shorty, my wife and I's miniature Australian shepherd, is curled up near my feet.  He is the cuddliest dog I have ever seen.  Anytime my wife and I sit on the couch together, he jumps up to be right in between us.  He doesn't want to be left out of any family time.  I have always had dogs growing up.  My family had some of the best, including Shorty's mom and dad, but I always thought it was a little crazy to think of spending several thousand dollars on veterinary bills for a dog.  But that was before Shorty.  The happiness he brings to Lauren and I is worth his weight in gold.  In fact, my sentiments were almost challenged a couple weeks ago when he screamed out in pain from an apparent problem in his neck.  We rushed him to A&M thinking he may have to have serious diagnostic and treatment procedures.  I knew what it may cost, but for this dog, it was nothing.  Turns out, his incident, although extremely acute, dissipated rapidly and with the help of some pain medication.  I still don't know what exactly caused his problem, but he has completed his pain meds and is back to 100% and looking for the next squirrel to chase.

I tell that story so I could tell this one.  An A&M veterinary clinician and a couple of MD Anderson researchers have developed a process to treat B-cell type Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, NHL, in dogs.  This cancer affects several hundred thousand dogs every year with swift and devastating results.  Dogs that don't undergo any treatment will die within a few weeks.  Even with treatment, the dogs may not last much longer.  This new treatment, called expanded T-cell therapy, is an additional treatment following standard chemotherapy.  Before the dog undergoes chemotherapy, the veterinarian extracts some blood and sends it to the lab.  As the dog undergoes chemo, the lab filters out only the T-cells then grows and multiplies them.  After the dog has completed chemo, the lab sends it back to the veterinarian for infusion back into the dog.  The beauty of this treatment is its simplicity.  T-cells are a type of immune system cell that goes out and kills non-normal cells, hence they are called natural killer cells.  This therapy allows the dog's own immune system to fight the cancer and try to finish off any remnants left following the chemotherapy.  The early results are quite extraordinary with dogs getting this treatment living, on average, four times the number of disease free days post-chemotherapy than dogs that receive chemotherapy alone.  It is no surprise to me that people are willing to spend the thousands of dollars required for treatment with these kinds of results.

That isn't even the best part.  This expanded T-cell therapy could one day be used to treat humans with NHL.  Around 70,000 people will be diagnosed with NHL in the U.S. this year alone.  After researchers have had time to gather more data on dogs, they will be able to better evaluate the chances of success in people.  Your dog could very well be helping you live longer after cancer.  How cool is that!

That is not the only cool thing we have going on in the A&M veterinary world.  On another study, researchers are using our brand new Diagnostic Imaging and Cancer Treatment Center to develop new ways to treat canine brain tumors.  Canine brain tumors are very similar to brain tumors found in kids.  Figure out a better way to do something in dogs, and you may have a better way to do it in children.  Yes, now I am telling you that dogs hold the key to fighting brain cancer.  In another part of the Small Animal Hospital, there are a ton of Labrador puppies running around.  These aren't your ordinary puppies, they come from a line of dogs that have a genetic predisposition to a type of kidney cancer.  Researchers are breeding these dogs in order to study this cancer because, you guessed it, there is a corresponding cancer in people.  These Labs hold the key to understanding and fighting these cancers.  (In case you are worried, most of the Lab puppies do not have the cancer and are subsequently adopted out to veterinary students.  Hence, if you ever come to an Aggie vet student gathering, you will see a lot of Labs.)

These dogs, our dogs, have always looked out for us.  Just think back to the images of Lassie, Hooch, Tin Tin, or your favorite dog growing up.  We always associated the protection the dogs provided to a physical one against threats from the outside.  Now, these same canines are helping to protect us from threats inside our own bodies.  Seems like our ever servant companions have some tricks up their sleeves, and who knows, they may be the key to helping us beat cancer.  Now, I need to go because Shorty is giving me the "Its time to thank me for my contributions by feeding me" face.  Gig'em!