Dec. 3, 2007—

Kyra looks like any other energetic Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, but she’s also a cancer survivor — and a reason for hope.

Two years ago, the 10-year-old canine’s owner, Eileen Eisenhower, noticed an eerily familiar lump on Kyra’s leg. Eileen is a nurse who treats human cancer patients.

“I said, ‘Oh, Kyra, you have lymphoma,” Eisenhower recalled lamenting. “I just knew it.”

But Eisenhower converted her pain into promise, enrolling Kyra in a revolutionary vaccine study at the University of Pennsylvania, which had an unlikely collaboration between canine veterinarians and human oncologists.

Four million dogs are diagnosed with cancer every year — cancers very similar to the human versions.

“Down to the microscope, they look very similar and they behave similarly,” Dr. Robert Vonderheide at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania said.

And this translates into the most promising aspect of this study: “They also respond to treatment very similarly,” Vonderheide points out.

One of the greatest advantages to studying dogs is they age faster — literally, in “dog years,” so scientists can get the results of their studies more quickly.

“It’s like a compressed biological life span that we can study — the cancer progression — and also potentially the response to therapy,” said Dr. Karin Sorenmo, associate professor of oncology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

In the study involving Kyra, doctors took genetic material from a cancerous tumor, implanted it in healthy infection-fighting b-cells outside the body to train them to attack the lymphoma, and then injected it back into Kyra.

Sorenmo was encouraged by the results. “I’m hoping that this is just the beginning of more trials that can benefit helping dogs, helping people.”

Kyra is back to her hyperenergetic and healthy self. She and a number of the dogs in the study are now cancer-free. The researchers estimate they are within two years of testing the vaccine on humans.

Without the dogs, they would be more than a decade away.

“If we didn’t have this information that we’re learning from vaccinating people’s pets, we would still be studying the vaccine in laboratory dishes without a real hope of going forward in the near future,” Vondreheide said.

The researchers’ optimism resonates on multiple levels for Eisenhower, as a grateful dog owner and dedicated cancer nurse.

“I hope that someday I can give this vaccine to people and to kids — and to, you know, let people know how it started and where it came from,” Eisenhower said.

She can tell them it came from man’s best friend.

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

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Dr. Robert Vonderheide, MD, D. Phil.

Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Cancer Biology Programme and the Gene Therapy and Vaccines Programme

University of Pensylvania School of Medicine

His office telephone number is 215-573-4265 and his email addres is

Dr. Vonderheide graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering in 1985 and from Oxford University, England , as a Rhodes Scholar with a D.Phil. in immunology in 1989. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1993, he completed a residency in Internal Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital and subsequently a clinical fellowship in hematology-oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He joined the University of Pennsylvania in 2001 as assistant professor in medicine and an investigator at the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute. He is funded by the NIH, the Beckman Foundation, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy.

Research Area: Infectious Disease 

Breed: Golden Retriever

The Vector Borne Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine is recruiting cases for a funded research project, which is investigating the potential role of selected flea- and tick-borne bacteria as co-factors in the development of lymphoma in Golden Retrievers. The 1998 Golden Retriever Health Survey showed a statistically significant decrease in lymphoma among Golden Retrievers that had been treated with flea and tick prevention products. This research project will examine one mechanism by which these data might be explained – that infection with Bartonella, Ehrlichia, and/or Anaplasma species bacteria may predispose susceptible dogs to develop lymphoma.

The purpose of this study is to search for evidence of Bartonella, Ehrlichia, and/or Anaplasma infection in Golden Retriever dogs with lymphoma, as compared to age- and sex-matched Golden Retrievers from the same geographic region. Obtaining identical samples from healthy control dogs will be critical to the scientific evaluation of data 

obtained from Golden Retrievers with lymphoma. Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt 

is the principal investigator and Ashlee Duncan is the graduate 

student responsible for the project. The entry criteria for a case 

include: Golden Retrievers with a new diagnosis of lymphoma that have not received any antibiotics within 14 days prior to sample collection (or 30 days for azithromycin). Samples should be collected prior to induction of chemotherapeutic agents.

The minimum entry criteria for a control include: Golden Retrievers residing within 100 miles of the case dog and lacking clinical evidence of lymphadenopathy, making the possibility of undetected lymphoma unlikely. Additionally, these control dogs must not have received any antibiotics within 14 days prior to sample collection (or 30 days for azithromycin). For each case, two to three control dogs will be utilized. If possible, these healthy dogs should be similar in age (± 18 months) and sex as the case dog. Healthy dogs may be identified by the owner of the case dog, selected by the case’s attending veterinarian, or recruited through the Golden 

Retriever Club of America. Cases and controls recruited will 

receive free serological and molecular testing for Bartonella, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma (a $360.00 value based on current serology/ PCR testing costs in our laboratory). Samples to be collected for this research include whole blood, serum, lymph node aspirate(s), and buccal swab(s).

Please contact us at 919-513-8279 or for further information.

 Research Area: Canine Cancer

Breeds: Akita, American Cocker Spaniel, Boxer, Bullmastiff, Chinese Shar-Pei, Chow Chow, English Cocker Spaniel, English Springer Spaniel, Flat-Coated Retriever, German Shepherd, Giant Schnauzer, Golden Retriever, Greyhound, Labrador Retriever, Leonberger, Mastiff, Miniature Poodle, Miniature Schnauzer, Pointer, Pug, Rottweiler, Scottish Terrier, Standard Poodle, Standard Schnauzer, Toy Poodle

After completing the dog genome sequencing project, the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and collaborators are now working on identifying disease genes predisposing to cancer. Identification of such genes could lead to carrier testing, a better understanding of the disease and long term better treatments for the disease in both dogs and humans.

More information can be found at:

For each of the below diseases researchers need blood samples from affected dogs as well as blood samples from healthy older (>6 yo) dogs.

Mammary tumors

PI: Kerstin Lindblad-Toh Broad and Elizabeth McNiel, U. Minnesota

Focus: English Springer Spaniel

Additional breeds included: German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels and Boxers 

Please contact:


PI: Kerstin Lindblad-Toh Broad and Phil Bergman, Animal Medical Center, NY Breeds included: ALL including Scottish Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Black Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Chow Chows, and Pugs 

Please contact:


PI: Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, Broad

Focus: Golden Retrievers, Boxers

Additional breeds included: Cocker Spaniel, Rottweiler, Akita, Flat- Coated Retriever 

Please contact:

Mast cell tumors

Collaborators: Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, Broad and Cheryl London, UC Davis

Focus: Pugs and Chinese Shar-Pei

Additional breeds included: Pit Bull Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Cocker Spaniel, Boxer 

Please contact:

 Researchers at the AMC Cancer Research Center and University of Colorado Health Science Center are looking for samples for the following projects:


Researchers need samples from any dog that has an AKC registration number.

Eligible dogs will undergo standard of care treatment and provide blood samples as well. Availability of 2 or more unaffected relatives that are >6 years old is desirable. They also would encourage people who have dogs that are related to study subjects that are affected to participate.

Owners of all dogs will be asked to fill out a follow-up questionnaire.


Researchers need blood samples from affected dogs for a study to map susceptibility genes. In some cases, samples may be applied to the development of a diagnostic test for hemangiosarcoma. Eligible dogs must have an AKC registration number. Owners of all dogs will be asked to fill out a follow-up questionnaire.

Visit for additional information on these programs.

Thank you for your attention.