Entry for:2018 Queensland Women in STEM Prize
1. Please provide a short summary of your research, project or technology.
Cancer is common and devastating in Queenslanders and their dogs. As a veterinary pathologist and immunologist my understanding of disease and immunity drives cures for cancer. For many decades, science relied on mice to help us research cancer, but treatments that work fantastic in mice frequently fail in human patients. My research takes a different approach. I use pet dogs with natural cancer and no hope for other treatments to develop new cancer therapies. Cancer is common and devastating in our pet dogs and causes heartache for their families. Dog cancer is similar in appearance, behaviour, genetics and environmental causes to human cancers. I study lymphoma, melanoma, sarcomas, carcinomas and brain cancer. I test novel theranostics and immunotherapy treatments. Because dog and human cancer is so similar, dogs provide excellent safety and efficacy data on our treatments. My treatments have cured pets, and are now helping human patients.
2. Additional Details
Dogs and humans share a special bond, and sadly the cancers that dogs and people develop are very similar. My research group looks at several major common and devastating cancers in pet dogs shared with people; brain cancer, lymphoma, melanoma and others. We are conducting trials on novel immunotherapies, which aim to 'wake up' the dog's immune system so it realizes the cancer is there and starts to destroy it. Our treatments include injections into the cancer and vaccinations. Our intratumoural injection resulted in 20% of the dogs being cured of their cancer. These dogs were no longer sick, and their cancer melted away. These dogs also had much longer with their families. Two of our patients were told they only had 2-3 months to live but they survived 12 and 17 months. The data from these dogs has helped start a hospital trial in human patients with advanced cancer. Another project I have looks at dogs with brain cancer, a devastating disease with few treatment options for pets and tragic outcomes. Brain cancer is the biggest killer of children and people under 40 than any other type of cancer. We examine dog brain tumours for 'biomarkers', molecules expressed in high amounts by the tumour that are similar to those expressed in human brain cancer. Our goal is to develop a 'theranostic', which stands for therapy plus diagnostic, which both detects the tumour on medical imaging and treats it in a targeted fashion. Ideally, our biomarkers will guide our drug or radiation treatment right to the cancer and away from normal tissue, so there are less side effects and better results than normal radiation or chemotherapy. We only use volunteer pet dogs who have naturally developed their cancer and have no hope for other cures. The pets get to stay with their owners throughout their treatment, which we know is safe for them and their families. Because the cancer in these dogs is natural, it interacts with the dog's body and immune system in a very similar way to how a human cancer does damage. This is very different from laboratory mice where the cancer is usually artificial. For this reason, we are much more confident about how well our treatments work, and how safe they will be when they are used to treat human patients. By conducting research on pet dogs with natural cancer, we help the dog, its family and the human patients who will benefit from these new therapies. Dogs are man's best friend in so many ways, and they can help us cure cancer too.
Associate Professor Allavena is a specialist veterinary anatomic pathologist and is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Pathologists. She is a registered specialist by review of t...