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Breakthrough Treatment For Dogs With Rare Cancer

The family of Griffin the rottweiler is extremely grateful for a medical trial that saved their much-loved pet after he was diagnosed with cancer.

A Queensland-based cancer immunotherapy trial has seen some success in treating dogs with cancer.

When Griffin was diagnosed, his owners were told he would live up to three more months.

The dog was enrolled in the treatment trial at the University of Queensland by researcher Dr Rachel Allavena and her PhD student, veterinarian Dr Annika Oksa.

“T-cell lymphoma is usually a death sentence for dogs, so Griffin is incredibly lucky to be alive," Allavena said.

The therapy works by "waking up" the dog's immune system, allowing it to destroy the cancer cells itself.

Dr Annika Oksa with cancer survivor Griffin. Image: 10 News First

So far, the medical trial has helped about 30 per cent of enrolled dogs suffering from cancer.

The researchers remove a small piece of the tumour and mix it with an adjuvant, or chemical, which is then injected back into the dog with a vaccine over weeks or months.

"(It's) a process that’s very straightforward, much like the regular needles a dog would receive as a puppy,” Oksa said.

“We then check the dogs very carefully when they visit to see how the cancer is responding to the treatment and make sure they’re doing well.”

Allavena said it is a "very different" way of treating cancer in dogs, which usually involves surgery, or chemotherapy and radiation -- both are which are toxic to normal cells.

“Chemotherapy was off the table for Griffin, as it would have made his waste poisonous, which would be dangerous since Griffin’s owner, Adam, had a young daughter who played in the backyard," she said.

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The trial has treated more than 170 dogs and Oksa said none of the animals had experienced any bad side effects.

“It’s also safe to do it in combination with other treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy and in some cases, like Griffin’s, it works well by itself," she said.

“We’re incredibly excited to expand the number of dogs we can assist, and send them back home happy and healthy.”

All veterinarians are able to perform the surgery required to source the tissue needed.

UQ and the treatment collaborators, The University of Sydney and Flinders University, hope the research will expand into human trial for similar cancers.

But for now, Adam and his family are extremely grateful to still have Griffin in their lives.

“It’s great that a medical trial like this exists,” he said.

“Griffin’s part of the family, and now my daughter has her best mate back and I’ve got my best friend back too -- it means the world.”