WSU marrow-transplant program offers improved option against canine lymphoma

WSU marrow-transplant program offers improved option against canine lymphoma

Previously performed only by specialists and researchers, the procedure is moving into the academic realm and eventually beyond
Jul 01, 2008

Pullman, Wash. — In an effort to make canine bone-marrow transplants more commonplace for dogs, Washington State University's (WSU) College of Veterinary Medicine is preparing to open its own transplant center at its veterinary teaching hospital.

The new program will be the first of its kind at the university level, though Dr. Jeffrey Bryan, the veterinary oncologist at WSU who is leading the new program, says the technology has been around for some time. He and his colleagues believe that bringing it into the academic realm will advance the procedure and, in time, make it more safe and affordable.

Beneficiary of knowledge: Dogs often helped gauge how well bone-marrow transplants would work in humans. Now it's time for them to reap some of the benefits of their sacrifice, veterinary researchers say.
"We've had quite a few phone calls already. I think there will be a great deal of interest, especially once more dogs are treated and there's more awareness," Bryan says. "We want to figure out how to make this as easy as possible for them."

Bone-marrow transplants more than triple the positive results of other lymphoma treatments, Bryan says. While chemotherapy can extend a dog's life by about one year, successful bone-marrow transplants could increase it by about three years, with a better post-treatment quality of life, he says.

And for an animal that has long played guinea pig for the benefit of human bone-marrow transplants, Edmund Sullivan, DVM, says it's about time dogs started to reap the rewards of their sacrifice.

For more than 50 years, dogs assisted researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle in perfecting bone-marrow transplant techniques. The dogs were used to gauge how well the procedure would work in humans, instead of how well a dog suffering from lymphoma could be treated, Bryan says.

"It's only fair that we now make this a treatment option for them, as well," Sullivan says.

Sullivan is widely credited for performing the first nonexperimental canine bone-marrow transplant at his Bellingham, Wash., clinic and says he worked closely with the Fred Hutchinson center to develop a technique that could work as a treatment, not an experiment, for dogs. The first transplant he performed was in 2004, and he has four cases being organized right now.

"We were the first ones to do this outside of the laboratory setting," Sullivan says. "But we wouldn't have any hope of doing it without the years of knowledge [the Fred Hutchinson center] had generated and without the generosity of them sharing that knowledge with us."

Moving the needle

Sharing knowledge will be an important step in moving the procedure forward, too, Sullivan says.

Keys to a canine bone-marrow transplant
"There's lots and lots of sick dogs," he says. "Veterinary institutions have the infrastructure for this. It should be advanced through an institution. I imagine that a handful of universities will start to provide these in the next two to four years. Kinks will get worked out. Then, specialty practices that already have the equipment will start to offer it."

Who is doing what and when is less important than working to perfect the procedure, agrees Bryan.

"It doesn't matter necessarily that we be the first, we just want this technique to be available to dogs," says Bryan, adding that North Carolina State University's veterinary college is working on a similar program.