Pet pig Nemo's lymphoma treatment makes research history

Wed Jul 24, 2013 5:13pm EDT
 
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By Yasmeen Abutaleb

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When George Goldner went to feed his six pet pigs earlier this year, his 730-pound (331-kg) companion Nemo was acting strangely. Nemo had suddenly stopped eating and laid in the mud.

So Goldner loaded Nemo into a trailer and drove more than two hours to Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA) in Ithaca, New York. There he learned his four-year-old Hampshire pig had what doctors believed was the blood cancer B-cell lymphoma.

The hospital's researchers told Goldner they had never seen a pig treated for cancer. But that did not deter Goldner, a self-described animal lover, who asked doctors to devise a way to treat his pig based on their knowledge of cancer in dogs and humans and not worry about costs.

Now, four months after Goldner first rushed to the hospital, Nemo has made history as the first known pig to undergo lymphoma treatment - and successfully - leaving researchers with hope for advancements in treating cancer in large animals.

"Before when large animals were diagnosed with cancer, it was pretty much impossible to treat them," said Emily Barrell, a resident who picked all of Nemo's chemotherapy drugs and delivered them. "Now we have a model to base it on."

Because pigs have necks bigger than many humans, their veins are difficult to access, Barrell said, making it impossible to deliver many of the aggressive drugs needed for chemotherapy.

Doctors at CUHA consulted with researchers in other fields before implanting a vascular access port, which is a small metal port with a silicone cover, directly under Nemo's skin behind his ear.

The port contained a catheter that ran through a jugular vein in his neck, allowing Nemo to receive the sort of cancer treatment administered to dogs and humans.   Continued...

 
Nemo, a 730-pound (331-kg) Hampshire pig, is pictured at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA) in this photo by the university released to Reuters on July 24, 2013. REUTERS/Cornell University/Handout via Reuters