Cancer Treatments Span Species

Every month or so, Dr. Ross Wilkins and Dr. Stephen Withrow meet for breakfast to discuss new treatments for bone cancer. It's a most unusual partnership, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger. The two doctors are fighting the same kind of disease with the same kind of treatment — but they work with very different kinds of patients. Dr. Wilkins is a bone cancer specialist — and Dr. Withrow is a veterinary oncologist.

"I'll watch Steve do an operation and I'm always thinking 'I don't do that. That's a great idea!'" says Wilkins.

Albion, a 6-year-old an English mastiff, is one of Withrow's latest canine success stories. She was suffering from bone cancer when her owners, the Lakins, brought her to the Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University. Withrow developed a new way to focus radiation on Albion's cancer — one that might soon be used in human patients.

"We're attacking a disease that destroys families, whether that's dogs or humans," he says.

"Dogs have this cancer more frequently and it develops more rapidly, so we can also investigate the treatment more rapidly and see the effects," Wilkins says.

Michael Amidei, a patient of Wilkins' at The Denver Clinic at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center, is one of the first humans to feel the effects of this treatment.

Suffering from bone cancer at age 10, Amidei nearly lost an arm and a leg to the disease. In response, Wilkins decided to try the treatment that his friend had used in dogs. Wilkins justifies the use of a veterinary procedure on a human patient by saying major problems require major or valiant solutions.

The collaboration of the two doctors has paid off big for both people and pets. Wilkins has been able to raise the survival rate of his human patients from 70 to 92 percent. Withrow says his canine patients are living four times longer.

The high rate of success is due in part to Withrow's use of surgical techniques and a method of administering chemotherapy developed by Wilkins for humans. "It's a win-win for biology, it's a win-win for mammals," he says.

A win-win both for mammals and for two doctors whose remarkable partnership spans the species.