TIAA 100th Anniversary Difference Makers: Veterinarian Helping Dogs | TIAA


When did I know I wanted to be a veterinarian? Probably when I was about six or seven. And I’ve never thought of doing anything else. I always blame my parents, because we were never allowed any animals. You know, when you’re not allowed something you always want it. My name is Nicola Mason I’m an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Shall we? Shall we? I run a translational research laboratory, which focuses on cancer immunotherapies, novel treatments to stimulate the immune system to target cancers. And our patient population are mostly dogs. And the idea is that, not only can we help dogs with cancer, but we can actually spin some of these trials now around to actually help humans with the same types of cancer. How are you doing? Good how are you? Hi, big man, how are you? Hello, how are you? Look, he’s got his new shoes on. This is Dexter? It is, yes. So, this is just the tag for Dexter. Excellent. Thank you. What’s he got in here? Here we go! [Laughs] Who’s this? We discovered that Dexter had cancer when we came back from a walk and he had exhibited a bit of a limp. Activity level, how’s he doing with that? He always was very active so we thought maybe it’s a torn ACL or something like that. Three miles a day? Yeah. Two and a half to three a day. Okay. So he was diagnosed with a very aggressive bone cancer called osteosarcoma. And that was in his right hind leg. And the course of action is amputation, and then follow-up chemotherapy. And even with that, the survival times are about a year. You know, animals, they become part of your family. So, it was devastating. The outlook was pretty bleak at the time. Do you want to put your dog through an amputation, through all that, and still have only the same amount of time? One day, when I was waiting in the waiting room, they told us that there was a clinical trial going on for osteosarcoma. The biggest issue, as there is with many of these types of cancers, is that whilst you can get rid of the primary tumor, the problem is the metastatic disease, the cells that have already peeled off the tumor and have gone around the body and are hiding somewhere. And those are the cells that are going to be responsible for relapse, and for cancer elsewhere. The idea of this new immunotherapy is to educate the patient’s immune system to actually go and find those tumor cells, recognize them, and then specifically eliminate them. Then the patient should be, ideally, cancer-free. Every time you’re down here for a check-up, you’re hoping for the best. And he cleared six months, twelve months, eighteen months. And then he just kept going. And he’s eleven now? He’ll be eleven in January. Christmas Eve will be his five years out. Five year “ampuversary.” Yeah. No coughing? No sneezing? No. No problems in terms of him being painful anywhere else? No. Part of it is that we check every morning to make sure that all his joints are fine, his spine is fine. He is getting old because you can see he is getting grumpier as well. [Laughs] Getting grumpy! This is a disease that we see relatively frequently in large and giant-breed dogs like this chap here. But we tend to see it in dogs that are older. And that’s actually in contrast to the human situation, where we tend to see this type of tumor in children. Osteosarcoma in dogs is almost identical to the cancer in children in every way, how it behaves, how it spreads, how it responds to certain chemotherapies. So, we really believe that with these very positive responses we’re seeing in the dog, we might be able to translate that over into children. And that would be incredibly important. Come on, then, let’s go! He’s a brave Dexter! Stay! Each patient is telling you something. Can we go back a bit? Luke was a non-amputated dog, survived two and a half years. Scarlet was one of the first dogs on the amputated trial, bless her. She didn’t do very well. Forty to fifty thousand dogs in the United States a year will get osteosarcoma. And that’s in stark contrast, fortunately, to children, where we’re looking at maybe about eight hundred. It’s difficult to study rare or orphan diseases. So that’s where this whole idea of “One Medicine, One Health” is important, because we can run these trials in dogs that desperately need new therapies, and we have plenty of these dogs coming in. There’s been renewed interest in this idea of “One Health,” this idea that we can learn from each other, and if we do learn from each other, we can move forward faster in both human and veterinary medicine. And that’s really what we’re sort of living every day here. It’s breakthrough stuff that we’re doing here. There’s not very many labs that are doing this kind of thing. And we’re seeing results. We’re seeing them live out much longer than expected. I feel very privileged to do what I do. Being here at Penn, I only have to walk a hundred yards, and I can be amongst the major players in cancer immunotherapy in the world. I think it’s very innovative. She must be in the top five percent, I would think, in the country, in terms of having the wherewithal to do this kind of work and to really be innovative and make a difference. Certainly, having that job security, financial security, is really important. You know, I can focus on what I do every day and what I love to do, and Penn and TIAA can take care of everything else. And I don’t have to worry about it. This looks pretty good. So, we have his results back from his radiographs, and it’s good news. We don’t see any evidence of spread of the cancer into his chest. When they get onto these trials, the owners, they come here and they have some hope. I’m very, very pleased with him. We’re five years out now, and things look really very good. Excellent. Good news. Thank you. Working with Dr. Mason has been great the whole time. Dexter is living life as if he had never lost a leg. That’s all we can ask for.

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