PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — By most accounts Yogi, a bichon shih tzu mix, is lucky to be alive.
“It was the longest weekend of my life,” said Yogi’s mom Linda Coppola of Langhorne, Bucks County. In January 2016, a routine trip to the vet revealed Yogi had lymphoma.
“They said we had to get treatment right away,” Coppola said.
“It’s quite an aggressive type of disease,” said Dr. Nicola Mason of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine, adding “often times initially the dogs actually feel quite well but without treatment it can progress and quite rapidly lead to some fatalities within about 6-8 weeks if they’re not treated.”
Doctors treated Yogi with chemotherapy for 19 weeks; he was then put into a clinical trial of immunotherapy at Penn Vet.
“The challenge we have with cancer therapy is how do we prevent the cancer from coming back,” said Dr. Mason, “That’s where we’re using the immune system, your own immune system and trying to educate it, tell it this is the cancer, this is what it looks like, you need to recognize it when it comes back and you need to eliminate it when it comes back.”
The study of immunotherapy is happening at other institutions around the country as well, but Dr. Mason tells Eyewitness News this specific type of research at Penn Vet is considered cutting-edge in the industry.
“There are many ways to do it, one way we’re doing it here is using the body’s own immune system and using its own cells for a vaccine outside of the patient’s body and putting it back in,” said Dr. Mason.
They are also studying how advances in the study of immunotherapy could help humans with cancer.
“We think environment, we think genes all play a role in initiating and progressing cancers so because dogs share those things with humans they frequently develop cancers that are very similar to the cancers that we develop,” said Dr. Mason.
According to Penn Vet, the treatment is far from being made available for sale and will likely require many more years of testing, but Dr. Mason says they’re optimistic about the future impact.
“We think we could learn a lot from each other and progress things a lot faster,” Dr. Mason said. “So advances that are made in the human field could help with our patients, the dogs, and advances that we make could also be taken to the other side for advances in the medical field.”
For Yogi and about half of the other dogs being tested in a year, the treatment worked – Yogi is now in remission.
“I always feel like it’s in the shadows, he’s in remission, and I’m so happy,” said Coppola,” I never take a day for granted, because I love him so much, he’s part of the family.”