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Experimental brain cancer treatment for dogs could one day help humans

Dogs get experimental cancer drug
Dogs get experimental cancer drug that could someday help humans 01:57

Sen. John McCain died Saturday after a year-long battle with glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer in people. It is rare, with only about 20,000 cases in the U.S. each year. It's the same type of aggressive cancer that claimed the life of his Senate colleague Ted Kennedy in 2009.

Glioblastoma can be very difficult to treat and a curing it is often not possible. Researchers are working on developing new treatment options, and one regimen is currently being tested in dogs with a canine version of the cancer.

Researchers at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech are enrolling dogs with glioblastoma into a clinical trial to test the experimental drug.

Laura Kamienski's dog Emily is one of the participants. Kamienski was devastated when Emily, a 10-year-old Portuguese water dog, was she was diagnosed earlier this year.

"I sobbed. I sat in the middle of the exam room and sobbed," she told CBS News.

Treatment options are very limited for dogs, but the clinical trial at Virginia Tech gave her hope.

"I said I'll do anything," she said.

The drug is injected directly into the tumor, specifically attacking the cancer while leaving the healthy brain tissue undamaged.

"We watch the entire treatment on MRI," Dr. John Rossmeisl, professor neurology and neurosurgery at Virginia Tech, told CBS News. "So we can watch the drug cover the tumor. And so we know we've achieved the treatment goals of actually targeting all the cancer cells."

The researchers say the results are so promising that the National Institutes of Health is now helping fund the trial, hoping it could eventually lead to a breakthrough in humans.

John McCain's parting words: "I lived and died a proud American" 04:35

It's been six weeks since Emily's first treatment and Kamienski said she hasn't had a seizure.

"She's herself," she said.

And MRI scans show Emily's tumors are shrinking.

"The black spot means the tumor is dying. That's what we want to see," Rossmeisl said. "The only way this could have been better if it was totally gone. This is really good news."

Kamienski is grateful for more time with her beloved dog.

"It's not a cure. I knew that going in," she said. "This is the best hope — to give her more time."

If the experiment pans out, the treatment doctors are studying now in dogs may someday offer hope for people trying to beat this cancer, as well.

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