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VA funds UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine cancer study in dogs

Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 5:58 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 17, 2021 at 6:02 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A new study at the University Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine is combining canines, cancer and the military.

“In this study, we’re trying to turn the immune system back on again specifically, against a patients cancer,” Prof. David Vail, Barbara A. Suran Chair in Comparative Oncology for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine said.

The Dept. of Veterans Affairs is funding the research, because many veterans overseas develop melanoma from sun exposure, and researchers have found similarities between cancer in dogs and people.

Instead of surgery or chemotherapy, the treatment involves a combination of radiation and antibody injections to attack tumors.

“With the hope of informing human trials that are also ongoing with this type of treatment,” Vail said.

For the last two months, Oshkosh resident, Brittney Maehl has been driving nearly two hours regularly for her dog Chester to take part in the trial.

Chester has malignant melanoma on the roof of his mouth.

“You think ‘how long?’ Maehl said. “You don’t know, am I counting down hours, minutes, or days?”

The decision to enroll Chester in the study was easy for Maehl, an Annapolis graduate and Naval Veteran.

“[There] were tears rolling down [my face],” Maehl said. “It’s amazing he’ll get top notch treatment and at the same time he is helping find this cure or treatment for my brothers and sisters in the military.”

After about two months, Chester’s tumor shrunk to at least half the original size.

“It’s an honor for him to be a part of it and it’s just great, an incredible connection and we’re blessed and thankful for it,” Maehl said.

Chester has a better quality of life, but he isn’t completely cured. Vail said a small amount of the cancer has spread to Chester’s lungs.

To be clear, the study does not give the dogs cancer, it treats those who have already been diagnosed with melanoma.

To see if your dog is eligible for a trial, you can contact the School of Veterinary Medicine.

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