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Technology going back to the dogs at UW School of Veterinary Medicine

January 6, 2011

Marty Croak was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in May 2009. A lump near his ear prompted him to see a physician.

By month’s end, his cancer moved from his tongue down the right side of his neck and into his lymph nodes. His first radiation treatment was June 2, 2009. By October he no longer showed signs of the disease, and next June will mark the two-year milestone where his physicians will determine if he’s cancer-free.

Croak, of McFarland, Wis., was lucky he acted quickly. Only 40 to 50 percent of human head-and-neck cancer patients make it to five years. Croak was lucky for another reason: technology developed by Madison-based TomoTherapy and dogs like Max.

Meet Max.

Max was one of the participants in the clinical trials for TomoTherapy. Ron and Linda Bohlender, of Roscoe, Ill., brought their dog to UW Veterinary Care, the teaching hospital of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. His options for survival were minimal.

Fortunately for people like Croak, dogs with nasal tumors have similar biology to humans with head and neck tumors. These dogs were ideal candidates for clinical trials to test this new state-of-the-art radiation therapy.

Because of the clinical trials with Max and other dogs, TomoTherapy technology is used in human hospitals worldwide. Today, the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine has installed one of the firm’s devices in its new Radiation Therapy Clinic, the first clinic of its kind in a veterinary hospital.

Now dogs like Max can have access to the technology every day, and humans like Marty can enjoy a higher quality of life because of the help of our canine friends.

TomoTherapy provides a combination of radiation treatment and a helical CT scanner that offers tumor dose distribution with lower toxicity. Using the technology, dogs’ and cats’ normal tissues will be spared when tumors of the head (nasal, salivary gland, jaw) are treated. Paw pads are protected when foot tumors are irradiated. Therapy precisely targets bladder tumors, sparing the surrounding intestines. Nasal tumor radiation no longer leaves pets with painful, dry eyes or, worse, blindness.

Max, a Boston terrier with a very short nose, would probably have lost sight in both eyes with traditional therapy, but with treatment his sight was spared. The technology gave Max a few extra years of his life, and according to the Bohlenders “they were quality years.”

“We have this great marriage between radiotherapy and helical CT imaging,” explains Lisa Forrest, a veterinarian, radiologist, radiation oncologist and researcher at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

She participated in the first clinical trials of the technology at the School of Veterinary Medicine, in conjunction with researchers at the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. “You put in the data, then the computer will come back and say, ‘Here’s what I’ve got. What do you think?’ It allows us to make adjustments during the course of treatment. If things have changed, we can modify the delivery,” she says.