Veterinary Program Milestone: Focused Ultrasound Safely Treats Canine Tumors


Key Points

  • A Foundation-funded clinical trial determined that high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) can safely ablate subcutaneous solid tumors in dogs.
  • The veterinary research group, based at Virginia Tech, also found HIFU to induce anti-cancer immune system changes in the treated animals.
  • This was the first trial funded by the Foundation’s Veterinary Program and supports our goal of offering innovative care to pets while also collecting data that can be beneficial for humans.

A newly published clinical study from the veterinary research team at Virginia Tech determined that high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) appears to safely ablate targeted tissue for the treatment of subcutaneous solid tumors in dogs. The group also found HIFU to induce positive immune system changes in the tumor microenvironment of the treated animals.

The trial, “High Intensity Focused Ultrasound for the Treatment of Solid Tumors: A Pilot Study in Canine Cancer Patients,” which was funded by the Foundation, enrolled 20 dogs. As published in the International Journal of Hyperthermia, the treated dogs had four different types of tumors, but most of them (15) had soft tissue sarcomas. Three dogs had mast cell tumors, one had an osteosarcoma, and one had thyroid carcinoma.

“Treating companion animals that are diagnosed with cancer allows us to study the effects of focused ultrasound in a way that may also help humans with cancer,” said Nick Dervisis, DVM, PhD, the study’s principal investigator. “Dogs suffer from spontaneous malignancies just as people do. Unlike rodent models, which are developed from genetically homogenous animals raised in controlled environments, pet dogs mirror their human counterparts in genetic diversity and exposure to similar environmental influences. At the same time, their body size allows for medical device prototyping for use in people. This provides the opportunity to study cancer in a relatively simplified genetic background, and performing proof of principle, biomarker-intensive translational studies, accelerating the transfer of knowledge from the bench to the bedside.”

The HIFU procedure, performed with Theraclion’s Echopulse device (which is also approved for human use), was generally well tolerated by the dogs, although one clinically significant adverse event (a skin burn) did occur. After three to six days post HIFU, the dogs underwent surgical removal of the treated tumors, and the research team collected tissue samples for histopathology and immune analyses. These analyses were used to confirm the degree of tissue ablation and levels of immune cell infiltration. Importantly, additional genetic analysis found that the expression of 28 different genes associated with immune system activation changed in the resected tissue after HIFU treatment.

Future studies will focus on characterizing the HIFU-induced immunostimulatory changes over time and understanding the genetic component of the immune reactions that were observed.

“This was the very first study funded by the Foundation’s Veterinary Program, and we are excited to continue to support additional clinical trials in companion animals,” said Kelsie Timbie, PhD, the Foundation’s Veterinary Program Director. “There has been an explosion of interest in veterinary trials in recent years, and I’m thrilled to see this important work getting the attention it deserves.”

The study was funded by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation and the Grayton Friedlander Memorial Fund.

See the International Journal of Hyperthermia >

Learn More About the Benefits of Veterinary Clinical Trials >

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