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RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters Life!) - Cody was dying of lymphoma and would probably not have made it to his 8th birthday had his family not taken him to one of the only hospitals that offers the bone marrow transplant he needed.
Two weeks after being admitted, Cody's doctors say the procedure was a success. He is hopefully cancer free for the rest of his life.
It's a success story with a twist -- Cody is a Golden Retriever.
Dr. Steven Suter, an assistant professor of oncology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University, took a well established protocol for humans and applied it to dogs.
Suter says lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in dogs and while chemotherapy will extend a dog's life for a couple of years, in the end 98 percent of patients succumb to the cancer.
His answer: cure the dog using the same methods that would be applied to a human with lymphoma.
The procedure involves a leukophoresis machine, a system designed to harvest stem cells from the patients blood, in conjuction with a drug therapy that helps extract stem cells from bone marrow.
The next step involves total body radiation to kill off any residual cancer cells before reintroducting the stem cells back into patient.
With a successful procedure, Suter says the stem cells returned to the patient's body will "go on and engraft. What that means is that they will become functionally normal as far as their blood cells go."
"The success rate of the transplant itself has been 100 percent. In other words, we have been able to show very clearly that you can transplant a dog," said Suter.
"We are assuming that the cure rate will be very close to the human cure rate which is around 50 to 66 percent."
The team has successfully transplanted four dogs suffering from canine lymphoma, a success rate which has focused attention on Suter and his team.
They now have a waiting list of dogs suffering from lymphoma that will keep them busy for several months.
While the transplant has increased the chances that Cody will live well past his 8th birthday, his owners had to make a substantial investment.
A bone marrow transplant for a dog costs $15,000.
Suter explains that the cost is high because the drugs and protocols used are the same as in humans but he argues that compared to other options, it may well be the best one.
"Lymphoma patients, if they are treated for a year and a half to two years with chemotherapy, their owners end up spending between $8,000 to $10,000 to $12,000 anyway and that's a dog that has a 98 to 99 percent chance of dying," he said.
"So we are hoping that for $15,000 we can cure of very large percentage of these dogs."
Cody is expected to be discharged in early March and will return home to Chicago, hopefully with a new lease on life. (Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)