Dogs help test new cancer fighting technology

PHILADELPHIA - November 3, 2011

Doctors say the most important factor in surviving lung cancer is getting all of the cancer out during surgery. Often times some gets missed, but new technology could change that.

Penn researchers have a $7-million government grant to test the new technology, and it starts with man's best friend.

Joey, an Australian shepherd, has been with the Gongol family for 10 years. Just last month, they noticed he had a bad cough.

"It was almost as if he had a hairball or fur ball stuck in his throat, and that went on for three weeks to 4 weeks," Chris Gongol explained.

They soon learned Joey had lung cancer.

"It was tough to deal with at first," said Chris.

But there is a bright side. Joey, along with other dogs like Gia, is helping to test new cancer fighting technology.

It was developed by Dr. Sunil Singhal at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine.

He says removing all the cancer during surgery gives people with lung cancer the best chance for survival, but that isn't always easy.

Currently surgeons only have their eyes, hands and intuition to help them cut out cancer, but he says this new infrared camera, used with special dye, gives doctors a much clearer picture.

"It can look at any spots in the chest that we opened to look for any cancer cells that may be left behind," explains Dr. Sunil Singhal.

And now with the help of Dr. David Holt at Penn's Veterinary School, the camera is being tested on dogs with soft tissue tumors, breast cancer, and lung cancer.

Here's how it works, the infrared camera shows a peak where cancer is, when it levels out, that area is cancer-free.

"It's quite exciting," says Dr. David Holt. "In the lung cancers, which is what the school is interested in, the camera can tell where the cancer is and where it is not with some very good degree of accuracy."

And Dr. Singhal says it should also work on humans; and not just on lung cancer but many other cancers like breast, brain and ovarian cancer.

"Any tumor when there is a doubt when you leave the operating room that you got the whole tumor out, there is no reason you can't use the imaging system to make sure you that everything has been removed," Dr. Singhal said.

Joey is now cancer-free, and the Gongols are happy they could help pave the way to help more humans battling lung cancer.

"I get chills when I think about the possibilities," said Chris.

The goal is to test this on at least 10 dogs with lung cancer, 30 dogs overall. Then it will be used in a "Phase One" study on humans with lung cancer.

Again this is funded by an NIH grant, but local donations also help fund research, and you can help.

The Penn Veterinary School is still enrolling dogs with cancer for this study. For more information, call 215-898-4680.

To get involved in the fight against lung cancer, there are two walks this weekend.

The Heather Saler 8th Annual Lung Cancer Walk in South Jersey on Saturday, November 5, 2011.

And the "Free to Breathe" Lung Cancer Walk in Philadelphia on Sunday, November 6, 2011

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