On Ella’s 7th birthday, she presented to us for being lethargic and not moving. Bloodwork only showed that her pancreas was inflamed. An ultrasound was done to determine how bad the pancreatitis was. A tumor was found hiding on the spleen. Splenic tumors are truly silent killers. Ella’s bloodwork was completely normal (aside from elevated pancreatic values) and X-rays never showed the tumor. It is rare to see abnormalities on bloodwork for splenic tumors and only when tumors on the spleen are significantly large can they be detected on X-rays.
Ella was taken to surgery to remove her spleen. Large masses on the spleen can be benign (non-cancerous) blood blisters, commonly called hematomas, or they can be highly malignant tumors leading to death within months after surgery. Regardless, the spleen has to come out, because either type can cause spontaneous bleeding and sudden death.
The week before Ella’s diagnosis, the stem cell therapy company that we work with informed us that they would be performing a new research trial on a cancer vaccine for pets. This is cutting edge technology that was being used in human clinical trials, that is now being applied by a research laboratory in Kentucky to help our pets. I reached out to Ella’s owner to see if she would like her to be part of the study. I informed her that the impact on this to Ella would be minimal. All we needed was to send a large portion of her mass off to the research lab and they would make a vaccine specifically for her, specifically against her tumor! The only thing it would require for Ella was for a blood sample to be taken and a vaccine to be given to her once a month for 3 months.
A week after the surgery, the biopsy results came in. Ella had a “high grade sarcoma”. Typically, by the time a high grade sarcoma is diagnosed in a patient it has already spread to their liver and other organs. Patients with this type of tumor have an average survival time after surgery of 1-2months.
We were glad we had sent Ella’s tumor out to the research lab. Now we anxiously waited for her vaccine to be created. There are 5 steps during the processing that her samples could be rejected meaning no vaccine would be created for her. As she passed each phase of the testing, I would receive a call from the lab and breathe a sigh of relief that her sample made it to the next level. Finally, in April, her vaccines were sent to us. She has now received all 3 of the vaccines that were created for her. Statistically, she should not have lived passed May, but here it is July, 4 months after her surgery, and she is happy and healthy with no signs of metastasis. The blood samples we drew on her confirmed scientifically, that prior to her 1st vaccine, her body was not fighting the cancer, but now she is showing that her body is mounting a strong response to kill off any sarcoma cancer cells in her body.
Ella has made history as the first dog to receive this vaccine and show a positive result both in laboratory tests and at home! We do not know if this means she is cured 100%, but we know that she has out-survived other dogs with her type of tumor while maintaining a normal quality of life! We wish the best to Ella & her mom!!
Want to know more? Ella’s vaccine is an “Autologous Cancer Vaccine.” Autologous means made from the patient himself. As tumors grow, they produce factors to create an immunosuppressive environment for themselves. This means that the tumor can fool the body and keep the body from recognizing the tumor as harmful, so that the body will ignore the tumor’s growth. The goal of the vaccine is to break through this immunosuppressive environment and get the body to recognize that the tumor is foreign and to begin destroying tumor cells. What is novel and cutting edge about this research project is that not only does the vaccine cause the body to produce tumor specific antibodies, it generates the production of tumor specific T-lymphocytes as well which is critical for cancer immunotherapy.
The scientists working on this project have 30 years of experience in this area of study. Only 8 dogs have been treated with this tumor vaccine and followed for results. 7 of the 8 dogs have shown a positive response in the laboratory and Ella is the first to show both a positive response both in the laboratory and in her clinical status.