cancer treatment

Because cancer is so common in both people and animals, new treatment options are bound to make waves. This year, for the first time, an innovative “seek and destroy” alternative to cancer surgery is being tested at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC).

The new method combines nano-technology and laser light therapy, potentially offering a targeted, non-surgical way to diagnose and treat tumors while preventing overtreatment and reducing common side effects, according to Dr. Michelle Oblak, a veterinary surgeon oncologist and professor in the Department of Clinical Studies.


The ground-breaking cancer treatment combines light-activated nanoparticles called porphysomes, along with photodynamic therapy (PTD). Dr. Oblaknotes that while using PTD to destroy tumors isn’t new, this is the first time the technique has been paired with new nanoparticle technology developed by a researcher at Toronto’s UniversityHealth Network (UHN).

This year’s clinical trail will include ten canine patients. The OVC team is injecting the porphysomes into each dog’s bloodstream, where they collect in the tumor or any other spot where the cancer may have spread. The light-activated molecule has a fluorescent glow that allows the team to track its location using a special light source.

Besides pinpointing the tumor’s where-abouts, the porphysomes make the tissue more vulnerable to damage from laser light. A beam of near-infrared laser light directed through a nano-fiber activates the porphysome, which then destroys cancerous tissue. For the clinical trial, the team is destroying only a portion of the cancerous tumors, then taking samples of the tumor and lymph nodes to assess the therapy’s results. Patients in the trial still undergo standard-of-care surgery to remove the entire tumor.

cancer treatment
Miya, a yellow Lab who is part of OVC’s clinical trial, receives a porphysome infusion.

cancer treatment


The OVC team is seeking dogs with thyroid cancer for its clinical trials. Dr.Oblak says that investigating dogs with thyroid cancer is a more reliable way to study naturally-occurring disease and treatment, adding that canine studies translate more readily than mouse models to human medicine. During the trial, researchers aim to refine the new porphysome treatment for use in animals; ultimately, it will be used for treating various types of human cancer, including thyroid cancer, as an adjunctor alternative to surgery.

Dr. Oblak states that photodynamic therapy is less invasive than surgery and targets tumors cleanly without harming normal tissue. The technology also avoids harmful side effects, including neck scarring and nerve damage that may affect the voice.

Dr. Oblak adds that this technology might also be utilized in the future for tumors that are difficult to eliminate through surgery. In dogs, it could be used for treating small thyroid tumors as well as other head and neck cancers.

“This is such an exciting opportunity, to have an impact on how cancer is treated in both humans and pets, and to be involved in such an incredibly innovative idea and invention,” says Dr. Oblak. “This could change the way we treat and diagnose cancer.”


IVC Journal is a division of Redstone Media Group. Innovation is the key to veterinarians staying competitive and being able to provide their clients with the absolute best care possible. IVC Journal delivers the most up to date and compelling information available by bridging the gap between the traditional worlds of allopathic and integrative veterinary care.


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