OLATHE, Kan. — Ruby, a senior Greyhound mix, is living her best life now, but four years ago her owner Kristen Constable was faced with a tough decision.
“I was sick to my stomach,” said Constable, describing the day she found out her beloved pet had Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. “It popped up pretty quickly. I think that’s pretty much a hallmark of bone cancer is that it can, it’s very aggressive.”
Constable recalled in 2016 she and her husband had just returned from vacation when they noticed Ruby limping up the stairs.
“She was kind of dragging her leg a little bit,” Constable said.
At first, they thought she hurt her leg, but a trip to the University of Missouri’s Veterinary Health Center in Columbia would confirm the grim diagnosis.
Constable said bone cancer is more common in Greyhound breeds. She said she once before had a greyhound who was also diagnosed with bone cancer.
“The first was one was a senior, and she had gone through Osteosarcoma as well. She lasted a week before we had to put her down,” Constable said.
So she immediately feared the worst for Ruby.
“Just making that decision to be humane is one of the worst things as a pet owner,” she explained. “It’s so hard to decide because they can’t talk. They can’t tell you how much pain they’re in.”
Trial gives sick dogs hope
But an animal research company based in Olathe stepped up and offered Constable an opportunity that would give Ruby a second chance at life.
Elias Animal Health is providing clinical trial studies for dogs across the country, giving pet owners like Constable hope.
“She actually is one of our five long-term survivors from that study. So she’s now 4 years, or close to 4 years, out from her diagnosis, which is actually unheard of in dogs,” explained Tammie Wahaus, founder and CEO of Elias Animal Health.
Using a new immuno-therapy and even chemotherapy, they’re fighting cancer in dogs.
“We brought the technology over a human health company in hopes that we would be able to significantly improve the survival times as well as the quality of life for dogs that a being treated for cancer,” Wahaus said.
How it works
In Ruby’s prognosis, Wahaus said they used a two-step approach. First, taking live weakened cancer cells from Ruby to introduce a vaccine.
“That informs the immune system, (which) has previously not been truly aware that the cancer exists, but it informs the immune system as to what that cancer looks like and that it’s not a good thing,” Wahaus said.
She added the second step involves gathering immune cells generated by the vaccine, and the lab creates a ‘T-cell infusion” as known as “Killer T-cells.”
“Those T-cells are infused into the patient, and they now not only recognize the cancer, but they also have significant power and they’re producing significant treatment, a therapeutic effect to kill the cancer cells,” Wahaus said.
An army of cells that not only recognize the bad cancer cell but is now powerful enough to fight those cells faster than the cancer cells can fight back.
It’s a one-time treatment, a series of three vaccines. Wahaus said in about seven weeks, the patient will be finished with their cancer treatment and hopefully go on to live a very long life.
Helping more than just canines?
Wahaus said each year, 1.8 million people are diagnosed with cancer versus nearly 6 million new cases in dogs.
The company’s cancer research and technology is not only saving the lives of dogs, but it could potentially one day help dog’s best friend.
“We love the idea of being able to help both pets and their owners in the fight against cancer,” Wahaus said. “What’s really cool about the work that we are doing is with the interrelationship between human cancers and canine cancers, dogs are a really great indicator of how a therapy will work in humans.”
As far Ruby, she’s living her best life. She lost a leg, but she’s has been cancer-free for four years and just as happy and healthy.
“She did like to jump and run and act silly,” Constable said.
She said Ruby’s treatment was worth it.
“I know Osteosarcoma happens in children, and if all of this can help save one person, it just makes Ruby’s life that much more special,” Constable added.
Wahaus said 36% of the dogs included in the study became long-term cancer survivors, something she said is meaningful to pet owners.
The clinical trial study is free if you’re accepted into the program, and enrollment has started for another that already has more 40 dogs participating.