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UC Davis breakthrough dog cancer trial provides promising link for humans

Could dogs help find a cure for cancer?
Could dogs help find a cure for cancer? 02:44

SACRAMENTO -- Could man's best friend ultimately help find a cure for cancer? Researchers at UC Davis think so. 

Doctors for humans linked hands with doctors for animals, hoping their groundbreaking study on new cancer treatment in dogs will one day save the lives of people. 

It stems from a unique collaboration in comparative oncology between researchers at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Center for Companion Animal Health. 

Thanks to cutting-edge research, the success story of one local dog could mean much more in the fight for a cure. 

The 9-year-old bullmastiff and pitbull mix named Tyson lives with his loving family in Elk Grove after being rescued as a puppy from the Sacramento SPCA. 

The dog is defying the odds after doctors said he would not live more than a year — he was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2021. 

"My daughter thinks he is her brother. He's not just a dog, He's literally family. I was willing to do anything to try to save his life, ultimately," said Brianna Fizulic, Tyson's owner. 

A leg amputation and chemotherapy were a must as the bone cancer took its toll. Tyson now gets around on three legs instead of four. But what made all the difference for Tyson was a clinical trial in cancer treatment through UC Davis.  

"This could possibly save his life, right? Like, there's no other option," said Fizulic of her decision to enroll Tyson in the trial. 

The dog took two weeks of immunotherapy and cutting-edge breathing treatments that brought Tyson back to tail-wagging and belly rubs. 

"Here we are, past September, a year, and we are still going strong, thankfully," said Fizulic. 

Breakthroughs in dog cancer treatment give doctors hope that one day this therapy will save the lives of people. 

"The cancer that dogs develop is incredibly similar to humans," said Dr. Robert Canter, a surgical oncologist for UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and a conductor of the research trial. 

Immunotherapy is inhaled through a respiratory device, giving the body a high dose of a molecule that helps the immune system attack cancer. 

"Immunotherapy really has been a breakthrough, almost a revolution in cancer treatment," said Canter. 

It could one day replace the highly invasive chemotherapy, as a much more tolerable option and possibly the new standard. But until then, it starts with dogs like Tyson paving the way through trial and error. 

"We can learn quicker what's working, what may not be working," said Canter. 

"And then taking that information and applying it to human clinical trials," said Michael Kent, Director of the Center for Companion Animal Health at UC Davis. 

Canter says 40% of the 21 dogs in the years-long trial had their cancer stop progressing or disappear altogether. Canter calls those numbers promising, but says there is more work to be done. 

As with any cancer patient, even in remission, Tyson's days could be numbered. 

"I'm holding onto hope," said Fizulic. "This is not just about him. It's about the future."  

Man's best friend, quite possibly man's best chance at a cure for cancer. 

"Everyone has one goal in mind: ending cancer," said Kent. 

The work is only just getting started. The goal is to start a similar clinical trial for humans within a year. 

The published findings of UC Davis surgical oncologist Dr. Robert Canter and veterinary oncologist Dr. Robert Rebhun can be read in full here.

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