You've likely heard about clinical trials as an option for people diagnosed with cancer, but have you ever heard about clinical trials for your pet?
Baxter the Boxer lives in East Hartford with his ‘pet parents' Joan Sevigny Cramer and her husband George.
The playful pooch was less than lively not that long ago.
"He just didn't want to play. He didn't want to do anything," George Cramer said.
That's because he had a tumor growing on his left front leg. The family veterinarian told Baxter's owners that he was concerned.
The veterinarian "implied that it was probably not a fatty tumor because of the blood that came out in his aspirating it with a needle," said Joan Sevigny Cramer.
She asked her veterinarian if there were any clinical trials or research available that would help her beloved Baxter.
The answer was yes.
Clinical trials for pets with cancer, which is what Baxter's tumor was, are one of the things they do at the Veterinary Cancer Center in Norwalk.
Dr. Gerald Post, a veterinarian and co-owner of VCC, said the facility is the largest stand-alone veterinary oncology center in the country.
Dogs and cats go to the center to receive chemotherapy, radiation therapy via a high-tech linear accelerator, and to participate in clinical trials, too.
Clinical trials test chemotherapy medications, radiation protocols and non-chem medications.
As of mid-April, VCC had trials underway for animals with lymphoma, soft-tissue sarcomas and mast-cell tumors.
Stamford Animal Control Officer Laurie Hollywood's 10-year-old dog Lady Bug has lymphosarcoma and participated in a clinical trial of a pre-chemotherapy treatment.
"It helps to know that there are avenues that you can look into to try to get the care you need for your pet," Hollywood said.
Her goal with Lady Bug's treatment was to extend her life and keep her comfortable.
Post said that the goal of his team is to make sure they allow the pet the longest quantity of life and the highest quality of life. Everything starts and stops with "what is the most beneficial thing for the pet?"
In her role as an animal control officer, Hollywood has seen animals suffer and said she does not want that for her dog. "If she's getting upset about the treatments or whatever, I'm just going to stop, you know," she said.
But so far, so good. She said that when Lady Bug started her treatments "it was like she was young and mischievous again, which was nice to see."
Post said that people turn to clinical trials for many reasons. He said often there is a financial incentive for them to enroll their pet in a clinical trial, meaning that sometimes, as was the case with Baxter, participating in the trial means free treatment.
Other times, treatment comes at a reduced cost or the pet owner is given a stipend.
Another reason pet owners choose clinical trials is because there are no other available treatments. Clinical trials may be the only hope.
"People want their pets to be involved in something that's going to benefit other pets," Post said. But beyond the trial helping other pets, some of the studies can actually help in the development of drugs for humans.
"We think that dogs and cats are almost like canaries in the coal mine," Post said. "And so they share the same environment that we do. They drink the same water. They eat the same food. They breathe the same air."
And they can get the same cancers people get. So what benefits the animal may ultimately benefit humankind as well.
Baxter's clinical trial lasted three weeks. The family committed to two visits each week: one visit for treatment, the other to be assessed.
His tumor broke open and then disappeared.
"We never dreamed it would turn out this way. We truly didn't. We were lucky to be part of a trial," Joan Sevigny Cramer said.
For more information about the trials underway, click here.
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