The Argus Institute at Colorado State

This is part three in a series about our tour of Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Care Center. Don’t miss part one and part two.

Tripawd pawrents are all too familiar with the reactions they get when they tell family and friends that their pup has cancer, and they’re ready to do what they can to fight it. If the word “amputation” comes into the conversation, reactions can be downright hurtful.

  • “You’re being selfish! Why would you do that to a dog?”
  • “Dogs aren’t meant to live like that!”
  • “You should put him out of his misery right now.”

Most Tripawd pawrents have heard these kind of reactions from well-intentioned humans. Their opinions hurt, leaving us feeling abandoned in an overwhelming new world of canine cancer.

But we are definitely not alone. On the Internet, pawrents can turn to the Tripawds Discussion Forums, and the Bone Cancer Dogs list, among other places. And in the greater world, we can find help at Colorado State University’s Argus Institute. During our recent visit to CSU’s Animal Cancer Care Center, we learned about this incredible organization.

As part of the CSU James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the Argus Institute is staffed with professional clinical counselors who can give information and emotional support to pawrents facing hard decisions surrounding their animal’s health care.

Each year, over 1000 people talk to counselors on the phone and visit in person, all of them seeking ways in which to cope with their animal companion’s illness, from understanding the diagnosis, to making end-of-life decisions.

Whether you are in the first days of learning about your Tripawd’s diagnosis, or are grieving over his loss, you don’t even have to be a client at CSU’s vet hospital to participate. Anyone can receive counseling services just by contacting the Argus Institute them or calling 970-297-1242.

Although the telephone consultation service is free, donations to this non-profit organization are greatly appreciated.

If you’re not quite ready to talk to a human on the phone, the Argus Institutes’s website has a wealth of information about Coping with Sick Animals, Pet Loss Resources, Children and Pets, and more.

The Pet Hospice Program

If you are lucky enough to live within 30 minutes of the Argus Institute, you can also get help through the Argus Institute  student-run “Pet Hospice Program.” As the first of its kind in the nation, the program supports families who are coping with their pet’s terminal illness.

CSU’s veterinary school student volunteers act as case managers for clients. They work with local veterinarians to provide clients and companion animals with in-home palliative care at no additional cost. Families can receive visits weekly, or sometimes even daily if necessary.

Case managers provide in-home nursing care, assess the animal’s comfort, and give support and educational resources to help the family in assessing quality of life, and ultimately, making end of life decisions as well. After each visit, the veterinarian is given a full report from case managers.

In addition to the hands-on assistant for pawrents, the Argus Institute helps in other ways too, by helping our vets to become better communicators. To learn more about this program please visit the Argus Institute website.

Teaching Vets How to Talk to their Clients

Research has proven that when vets and clients share in the decision-making process together, improved medical outcomes tend to follow. Yet, most vets enter the profession with little or no formal training in client communication skills.

The Argus Institute seeks to bridge this gap, by teaching veterinary professionals how to make the emotional support of their human clients as much a priority as the medical care of their animal patients. At CSU, communication training has been a part of the core curriculum of all veterinary students since 2006.

Through seminars, studies and hands-on workshops, the Argus Institute teaches vets and vet students to how to be better listeners and communicators, be more empathetic, ask open-ended questions of their clients, and have a better understanding of their client’s perspectives.

As companion animals play an even bigger role in our lives, the non-profit Argus Institute will be there to help us and our vets become better communicators with each another. No matter where you live, we hope you will keep this exceptional organization in mind when you are seeking information and support for your Tripawd’s medical situation.

Dog Cancer Clinical Trials: What You Need to Know

This is part two in a series about our tour of Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Care Center. Don’t miss part one and part three.

Wyatt gets senior CSU student vet checkupUntil you’ve had a close family member diagnosed with cancer, chances are you’ve probably never been acquainted with the world of clinical trials. For many Tripawd pawrents, the first time we heard about clinical trials was when our beloved dog was diagnosed with bone cancer.

During our visit to Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Center, we were introduced to the variety of clinical trials they are conducting. Clinical trails help doctors in the medical and veterinary fields investigate methods to improve detection and treatment of cancer, as well as improve the quality of care each patient receives. This could mean a dog would get a new drug, radiation or other treatment or new diagnostic test.

To set the record straight, we want to start this article by informing readers that the CSU Animal Cancer Center does not cause cancer in healthy dogs and then study it.

Instead, the researchers at the ACC study the naturally occurring tumors in pets that come to the hospital for treatment. Tumors that occur in pets naturally are a much more realistic and powerful model to study. The well being and quality of life of the patient is the foremost goal of the oncology team at CSU.

One example of research projects at ACC is tissue archiving. Owners are asked if ACC clinicians can archive a blood sample and some of the tumor tissue removed during surgery; tissue that would otherwise be discarded. They pretty much all say yes! This tissue becomes a very valuable resource for developing new diagnostic tests and drugs.

Another example of research at the ACC are the Clinical Trials. Owners are given this option in addition to standard of care treatment options.

According to Dr. Hardy, “The Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University typically has approximately 20 ongoing clinical trials for various tumor types at any one time. These studies help doctors in the medical and veterinary fields investigate methods to improve detection and treatment of cancer, as well as improve the quality of care each patient receives. There are requirements to participate in a clinical trial, which may include frequent visits to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at CSU. For this reason, a financial bill reduction is offered to the owner as a thank you. Clinical trials are a great way to offer cutting edge therapies while reducing costs for owners and helping our researchers advance cancer care.”

What’s a Clinical Trial?

Clinical trials are studies that evaluate the effectiveness of a new treatment for a disease like osteosarcoma. Typically conducted at veterinary teaching hospitals, clinical trials begin once an experimental new drug or treatment has been tested for safety in laboratory animals, and has demonstrated some level of benefit for patients.

According to the Perseus Foundation’s excellent “Clinical Trial Handbook,” (click here to download in PDF form), clinical trials are conducted at four distinct phases. In each phase, scientists seek answers to questions like: What is the correct dosage and use of the treatment? Does the new treatment have anti-cancer effects (i.e., does it shrink tumors)? How does the new treatment compare with existing ones? And finally, they test the new treatment against at least two established treatment regimens, by randomly assigning each one to a given group of patient.

Why Participate?

Cancer in dogs tends to mirror the behavior of cancer in humans, especially osteosarcoma and soft-tissue sarcoma. Drugs and therapies for these cancers that have proven to be beneficial for humans, have also gone on to help our dogs too. And, vice versa. In fact, typically treatments that are available for humans have first been proven beneficial in dogs with similar diseases, often through clinical trials.

As awful as cancer is, at least some comfort can be found in knowing that by participating in a clinical trial, your Tripawd cancer warrior is helping to advance cancer research, and ultimately, find a cure to this terrible disease.

Esther, pawrent to a local Great Dane Tripawd named Athena who is currently participating in the Gene Therapy clinical trial at the Animal Cancer Center, concurs.

“I would recommend anyone eligible for the clinical trial to go for it, it not only helps the pet, it also furthers research on this kind of cancer in humans and pets.”

In addition to the feel-good factor, pawrents who agree to participate in a clinical trial for their Tripawd can benefit from financial assistance offered by the research institution and/or trial sponsor. Oftentimes, thousands of dollars can be saved by agreeing to participate.

But as the saying goes, there’s no free lunch. Clinical trial participation demands stringent adherence to rules set forth by the researchers. Most times, not even an aspirin can be given to the patient without permission from the research team. Many trials require that patients live close enough for multiple follow up visits. Finally, most trials require a necropsy to performed on the dog at the time of his death, for research purposes.

With the Gene Therapy clinical trial that Tripawd Athena is participating in, it required her to endure a battery of tests before undergoing amputation. Throughout these tests, she had to stay heavily medicated for almost two weeks, to manage the excruciating pain from the tumor in her leg. Her Mom Esther looks back on that time and says,

“One of the hardest things we dealt with during the clinical trail was waiting 10 days for the amputation, she was loaded up on pain meds and clearly did not feel good.

There were times I was sorry we made the choice because of her pain, but I’m confident it was a good choice and because it gives her a better prognosis. It was worth it.”

As you can see, there are benefits and drawbacks to participating in a clinical trial. If you are interested in learning more, download the Perseus Foundation’s Clinical Trials Handbook, and ask others who have been there in our “Treatment and Recovery Discussion Forums” for dogs with cancer and undergoing amputation.

Also, check out our Dog Cancer and Amputation Resources Page, which  lists current clinical trials underway at veterinary teaching hospitals around the country.

If you think you want to participate, and you happen to live near the CSU Animal Cancer Center, take a look at this list of current dog cancer clinical trials available. Scroll down for the list of trials that are currently available for dogs with osteosarcoma.

A Look at Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Center

When my pawrents landed at Fort Collins, Colorado in July, they couldn’t wait to take Wyatt Ray to check out the Colorado State University (CSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital and Animal Cancer Center (ACC).

If you’ve been affected by canine cancer, you’ve probably heard all of the great things about CSU’s cancer care and research. During my cancer battle, I was fortunate enough to have an oncologist who was trained at CSU’s Animal Cancer Center.

This is the first in a three-part series about the amazing work being done at the ACC. Our first look here is an overview of the groundbreaking services offered to clients. In our second post, we discuss the ACC’s clinical trials. And finally, we’ll share what we learned about CSU’s Argus Institute, one of the few organizations in the world offering free support services to pawrents making critical decisions about their pet’s medical care.

Colorado State University’s Animal Cancer Center

CSU’s Animal Cancer Center has a reputation for providing the most advanced cancer treatments and research anywhere on the planet. Each day, pawrents from all over the world entrust the care of their beloved furry companions to CSU’s world-renowned clinicians.

Our tour guide at the ACC was Dr. Christine Hardy, Director of Operations. Dr. Hardy graciously showed us around, and explained some of the incredible work that happens at the Center every day.

The Robert H. and Mary G. Flint Animal Cancer Center (ACC) opened in 2002, as an addition to the CSU’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. This state of the art facility was built with $10 million dollars, $9 million of which came from private donors, including notable dog lovers like U.S. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, and renowned Weimaraner photographer William Wegman, whose own dogs were treated there. The building is named for lead donors Mary and Robert Flint of Michigan. Their two golden retrievers, Anna and Eve, were both successfully treated at the ACC for a total of 7 cancers between them and went on to pass away of old age. The Flints believed in the mission of the Animal Cancer to help all species with cancer, recognizing that cancer is one disease that affects many species.

About 1500 new patients walk through the clinic’s door each year, accounting for over 6,000 individual appointments. If your Tripawd is a patient, he can receive some of the most advanced cancer diagnostic treatments in the world, and play an integral role in groundbreaking research that helps canines and humans alike.

The ACC’s level of care is unprecedented anywhere else in the world. The clinical team includes 3 medical oncologists, four surgical oncologists, a team of dedicated nurses, medical oncology residents, a surgical oncology fellow, veterinary students, and numerous researchers and associates.

If your Tripawd has seen an oncologist, chances are that oncologist studied at ACC. Over 90 percent of oncology surgeons in the U.S. complete their residencies there!

Dr. Hardy says “Our mission at the CSU Animal Cancer Center is to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in pet animals, translating our research and knowledge to also benefit people with cancer. We do this by offering the latest and most advanced diagnostics and treatments in surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. We attain our mission through an innovative study of cancer, thoughtful and compassionate care, specialized treatment options and procedures.”

The ACC offers the world’s most advanced diagnostics and treatments in surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Among their radiation therapy capabilities, one stands out among the rest; the Varian Trilogy Linear Accelerator.

Advances in Radiation Therapy with the Varian Triology

The Varian Trilogy is a linear accelerator that provides radiation therapy with far greater accuracy than ever before. The CSU Animal Cancer Center is the only veterinary institution in the world (they cost ~$4 million dollars!) to have one of these machines.

The Trilogy delivers targeted radiation therapy to tumors at higher doses, with far fewer side effects or damage to surrounding healthy tissues. For some tumors, treatment that used to be spread out over weeks, can now be performed in a matter of days.

The best part about the Varian Trilogy is that some previously inoperable tumors are now treatable because of the very specific dose of radiation that can be targeted to just the tumor, sparing surrounding normal tissue.

This machine has also allowed the specialists to treat tumors, like osteosarcoma, with a new non-invasive technique called Stereotactic Radiosurgery. At the CSU Animal Cancer Center, dogs with osteosarcoma are being treated with this new method, which can potentially spare them from amputation.

For Tripawds battling bone cancer, CSU offers the most advanced options for treatment.

Dr. Hardy explains; “One of the most common tumors we see here are the Animal Cancer Center is osteosarcoma, which is a type of bone cancer. We see approximately 250 new cases of osteosarcoma in dogs every year through our clinical service. It is a common tumor in dogs over about 50 pounds in size and very similar to the same type of cancer that develops in children. Depending on the specific case, location of the tumor and if it has spread to other parts of the body, treatment options can include surgical amputation, surgical limb spare, stereotactic radiosurgery, chemotherapy, and/or pain management.

Also, because of the similarities between dogs and kids with bone cancer, what we learn treating dogs benefits both species. For example, a limb sparing surgical technique was perfected in dogs by Dr. Stephen Withrow, a surgical oncologist and Director of the Animal Cancer Center, and is now the basis of the surgery performed in children. “

ACC Takes a Holistic Approach to Cancer Care

Jerry Dog gets Accupuncture in Durango Unlike most university clinics and research facilities, the ACC is going beyond the standard allopathic chemotherapy, radiation and surgical treatments for animal cancer patients. In a forward-thinking, holistic approach to cancer therapy, the ACC is now home to The Charles R. Shipley, Jr. and Lucia H. Shipley Center for Complementary Medicine and Natural Healing.

The Shipley Natural Healing Center is dedicated to the scientific study and application of natural cancer therapies and treatments. Animal cancer patients of the Shipley Center are treated by clinicians who deliver natural therapies that can enhance their quality of life, such as acupuncture.

In our next look at the ACC, we’ll discuss clinical trails, and bone cancer specific ones currently being offered to canine cancer patients. And don’t miss our final story about the ACC”s Argus Institute, which offers emotional and decisionmaking support people facing serious medical decisions for their animal companions.