Jul 152012
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History was made on July, 10, 2012, when Sasha underwent her first round of treatment in the Mason Bone Cancer Study at the University of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine.  The study takes a novel approach to fighting cancer using a recombinant L. monocytogenes vaccine to, hopefully,   cause anti-tumor activity of the body’s immune system.  Liliana and I drove to Pennsylvania with Sasha, Argus and Alli (the Three Musketeers) on Monday.  We are lucky that my parents still live in PA, so we had a place to lay our heads for the duration of Sasha’s stay at UPenn.

We met with Dr. Nicola Mason Tuesday morning.  I cannot say enough good things about Dr. Mason.  Entering Sasha into the first phase of a clinical trial was not an easy decision to make.  Allowing her to be exposed (intravenously) to Listeria monocytogenes bacterium and leaving her in the care of people that we do not know at a large University did not make the decision any easier, but Dr. Mason put our worries to rest and our minds at ease.  Whenever Liliana and I speak with Dr. Mason, we always feel that she genuinely cares about Sasha, and she makes a great effort to ensure that we understand everything that will happen during the trial.  She also called us several times each day while Sasha was in her care to give us updates about how our girl was doing.  We feel very fortunate to have been able to enroll Sasha in this innovative approach to treating bone cancer in dogs, humans, and other animals.

Administration of the Listeria monocytogenes vaccine began at about 2:00 PM on Tuesday and lasted approximately one hour.  The first sign of evidence that Sasha had been exposed to the ‘bug’ came a few hours later.  She developed a mild-to-moderate fever which peaked at 103.8 (normal temperature for dogs is 101.5) at around midnight.  The fever was easily kept under control with IV liquids and a fan blowing on Sasha.  The fever was a good sign, as it indicated that Sasha’s immune system recognized the Listeria, and was actively fighting it.

The idea behind the Mason Bone Cancer Study is to train Sasha’s immune system to find and attack cancer cells.   Normal cells divide by a process called mitosis.  Mitosis occurs at a regular rate, and each cell produces two identical daughter cells.  Cancer cells are essentially bad copies of parent cells.  The DNA of the parent cell is not replicated perfectly during mitosis, and mutant cells are born.  These mutant cells do not behave normally.  They do not die when they are supposed to – a process genetically hardwired into each normal cell called apoptosis.  Instead, cancer cells multiply, often at accelerated rates, and can form tumors.  Note: not all tumors are cancerous, and not all cancer cells form tumors, i.e. leukemia.  Unfortunately, the mutant cancer cells are not so different from normal cells that the body’s immune system recognizes them as a threat.

The Listeria bug used in the Mason Bone Cancer Study has been genetically modified to express a protein called, Her2/neu.  Sasha’s cancer cells also produce this same protein.  By injecting the Listeria into Sasha, the hope is to elicit an immune response.  Since the listeria used expresses the Her2/neu protein, Sasha’s immune system will become programmed to recognize the protein as a dangerous invader and attack it.  The hope is that her immune system will now also recognize any cancer cells in her body as dangerous invaders and attack them, as well.

The day after Sasha’s vaccination, bloodwork showed that she was mildly anemic and that her platelet count was lower than normal.  These counts returned to normal the following day.  Dr. Mason explained that the likely cause for the low platelet count was the vaccination caused her platelets to adhere to the lining of her blood vessels, thus removing them from the bloodstream, and causing the low reading from the collected blood.  The temporary low count of Sasha’s red blood cells (anemia) was probably due to her blood being diluted as a result of the intravenous fluids she received to keep her temperature in check the prior day.

More bloodwork was performed on July 12th.  The results showed that Sasha’s liver enzymes were on the rise.  Her elevated liver enzymes, ALT (Alanine transaminase) and AST (Aspartate transaminase), are likely elevated due to inflammation caused by the vaccine.  Similar findings were documented in human patients that received a comparable Listeria vaccination.  Dr. Mason told us that Sasha’s elevated liver enzymes were not something to be alarmed about but that they should be monitored.  She asked that we schedule an appointment with Sasha’s regular veterinarian, Dr. Neuenschwander, to do follow up bloodwork on Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

Dr. Mason said that Sasha was a trooper throughout her whole stay at UPenn, and took all of the poking and prodding in stride and without complaint.  The only sign that Sasha may have been feeling under the weather is that she did not seem to have much of an appetite.  Dr. Mason made several attempts to get Sasha to eat, including hand feeding her, but Sasha was not interested until she was presented with some yummy canned food.  Again, our gratitude to Dr. Mason for taking such good care of Sasha.

We are back home in Raleigh, NC now, and Sasha is doing great.  She is still being a little picky with her food; however, we believe that her appetite is fine.  Sasha is a smart girl, and she learned quickly that by turning her nose up to her regular kibble, she would be offered something tastier.   She retrieved her Kong flying disc several times this morning and was as fast as ever!  We hope to take her swimming sometime before the return trip to Philadelphia.

Thanks to everyone for reading about Sasha’s battle against cancer, and Dr. Mason’s innovative work.  Thanks to Dr. Mason and her team at UPenn School of Veterinary Medicine.  Thanks to my parents for providing me and  Liliana with food to eat and a place to sleep.  Thanks to Greg Goldberg (basically my brother-in-law) for staying at our home in Raleigh and taking care of our other dogs while we were away.

I will continue to chronicle Sasha’s progress here on Lili’s Notes.  Please come back to see how she’s doing!

PS.  I’m famous!  Check out this article about me and the Mason Bone Cancer Study in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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  28 Responses to “Sasha Sails Through First Treatment in Mason Bone Cancer Study”

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    Sasha seems like a tough gal… hoping this is everything you want and need Sasha! Be a brave pup and hang in there.


    Our beloved dog, Molly, is also part of the study and will hopefully receive the vaccine next week.



      Hi Jenn and Molly!

      Thanks for stopping by lilisnotes. Dr. Mason told us that Molly would be the second dog in the trial. What breed is she?

      Our experience in Philly and at UPenn was great. Sasha is a real momma’s girl, but she did fine in Dr. Mason’s care. I’m sure Molly will do just fine with her treatment, too. Please feel free to e-mail us (lili@lilisnotes.com) if you have any questions about our experience thus far, or anything else for that matter. Also, we’d love to have a photo of Molly to put up on lilisnotes.

      Take care, and we wish you and Molly all the best!
      Carlos and Liliana


    Hi Liliana & Carlos. Dr. Mason sent me a link to your blog and I’m so glad she did. My 6 year old dog, Dolly, received the devastating osteosarcoma diagnosis on May 31st. She has since had her left hind limb removed and received her first round of carboplatin chemotherapy on July 5th. She tested positive for the Her2/neu protein and is slated to participate in Dr. Mason’s Listeria study, provided all goes well with the rest of her chemotherapy.

    It’s felt a little isolating, dealing with this terrible disease without knowing anyone else who went or is going through the same situation. So thank you, very much, for sharing your story and updates on Sasha with all of us.

    Wishing you and your pack all the best, and a little extra love to Sasha.

    – Rachel


      Hi Rachel,

      We’re so happy to have you and Dolly here at lilisnotes. I’m so sorry about what you and your friend are going through. I can honestly say that the news of Sasha’s diagnosis was the worst part of this whole ordeal.

      What kind of dog is Dolly? Please send us a photo of her so that we can put it up on the blog for all to see!

      How has Dolly been doing since the limb removal? I know it’s not much of a consolation, but dogs get along much better with one leg as opposed to one arm. It’s funny, Sasha actually gets around running better than she does walking.

      Dolly is young, so I’m sure she will breeze through her chemo treatments. Sasha needed to delay her third and fourth treatments for a few days due to slightly low white blood cell counts. All is good now though, and Sasha is supposed to go back in for her second round of the L. monocytogenes vaccine on 7/30 or 7/31.

      Please feel free to write to us anytime (lili@lilisnotes.com). And don’t forget to send us a photo and a little info about Dolly!

      Take care and give Dolly a big hug from us.

      Carlos and Liliana


    Hi Ruano family,
    Please let Sasha know I am very proud of her for being so brave. I’m so glad you found Dr. Mason and know that you all are doing everything you can for Sasha. She is your baby, and a wonderful member of your family and ours at Brentwood. Hugs to her and tell her she is in my thoughts. Thanks for forwarding the article to me I printed it to share with everyone at work.


      Hi Shelly!

      Thanks for checking out the blog. We all missed you and Dr. N. at the office today, but Christina took good care of us. You all really do feel like family at the Brentwood Animal Hospital. Liliana and I have said, on more than one occasion, that we are so happy that we decided to walk into BAH when we moved to Raleigh almost seven years ago instead of any other place. We love you guys!

      Carlos, Liliana and The Pack


    Is there any way to get my dog the vaccine without amputation and chemo? He’s recently diagnosed and I don’t want to wait. I realize I will still need the histology and cell surface protein identification.
    Thank you


    Hi Lili,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am watching this study with earnest having already lost 2 Leonbergers to osteosarcoma. I lost my first male in 2005 when he was barely 5 years old. We had thrown everything at this cancer including amputation, cis-platin, carboplatin, etc. Sadly, mets were discovered in his lungs when we were preparing for the 4th chemo treatment. I just lost an 11 year-old female in whom chemo really wasn’t an option.
    My questions are this – did Sasha have negative reactions to the carboplatin – ie: fever, low white blood cell counts, etc? How old was she when first diagnosed? Were any other organs involved beside a limb?
    I have shared the ups and downs of osteosarcoma with others through a mentoring/support group and am delighted to see more hope for this horrible disease.


      Hi Kristine,

      I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your two dogs. We were so concerned about metastases to Sasha’s lungs, but didn’t spend any time worrying about the cancer coming back in another limb. Go figure.

      Carboplatin did cause Sasha’s white blood cell count to fall, but never to dangerous levels. She did not exhibit any ill effect from the chemotherapy treatments. Sasha was 11 years and 5 months old when diagnosed with osteosarcoma. There was no radiographic evidence of cancerous growth in any part of Sasha’s body besides her right humerus.

      I think what you do through your group is great. People can really benefit from mentoring and support from someone who has experience with this terrible disease. Thank you for writing!


      I know I’m late in getting to this but I have a Tripawd and he also developed lung cancer.
      I took him to a different veterinary hospital and I was able to convince them to try Palladia for this.
      It’s now 18+ months and he’s doing well with the Palladia as well as the Dog Cancer diet.
      Please speak to your vet and see if this is an option. for you.
      I fear not enough people are familiar with Palladia and don’t know to ask their vet if it’s an option.
      Good Luck!!!!


        Hi Lisa,

        Thank you for the suggestion. Sasha has taken Palladia. At this time, she is off because she received another dose of the listeria vaccine.

        Congratulations on your pooch making it past 18 months cancer free…we are sending him many hugs!



      My Leonberger has just been diagnosed with osteo and am planning on amputating tomorrow. I am hoping I am doing the right thing. I just lost another to osteo in July. In my almost 20 years of Leos we have had very little osteo but have had other cancers. I have been trying to get in touch with Dr. Mason to see if she is eligible for the trial, but so far have not been successful. Any ideas ill be helpful


        Hi Beverly,

        I am sorry to hear that your pooch has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma. I am sure she will do fine during the surgery, and you will see she will adapt pretty quickly to being on 3-legs.

        To get in touch with Dr. Mason, I would just suggest you call and leave a message and write an email. After the amputation, maybe have your vet/surgeon to keep the tumor not be de-calcified so that it can be tested to see if its her2/neu positive.

        Best of luck, I will be thinking of your and your baby. What is her name?



    Thanks for blogging Sasha’s journey. It sure gives me hope! My greyhound was diagnosed with OSA in April, amputation in May, & has just received his 3rd vaccine from Dr. Mason. He goes back in 2 weeks for re-staging, which of course is scary, but I was happy to read about Lisa’s dog doing well on Palladia & would like to know more about the Dog Cancer diet. I agree with you, Dr. Mason is wonderful, my dog loves her!
    Please let us know how Sasha is doing! Best wishes!
    ~ Kris & Carlos


      Hi there, thanks for stopping by. I am sorry to hear of your pup having OSA, but I am happy to hear that he made it into the trial and he doing well! What is his name?

      Where can I read about Lisa’s dog? I don’t know who she is and I’d be interested in reading her and her dog’s story and learning about the cancer diet. We didn’t do anything special other than changing her diet to a higher protein kibble (80% of her diet is protein).

      Sasha is doing well, and we will be putting up a quick post very soon.

      Best wishes!



    Hello I think this story is awsome. I am in Illinois and just contacted Dr mason. I have a large breed
    79lb mix.. Also confirmed biopsy just tues, planning for amputation next week. Ive been researching since last week because I found the mass, and have a bit of knowledge on it and though you hope your one of those rare situations I think in my heart I had already prepared myself, not to say I balled my eyes out all over again. I was trying to look into partial limp ampuation with use of prosthesis because of she has a back leg TPLO but the tumor is in her front and I was concerned her knees couldnt take the havek, since she gets sore occasionally on both backs on long days, but I have to think is that more of a concern or risking a partial ampuation and find out margins werent clear…ugg.. So many decisions.. ugg…guess Ill just have to try full to be sure I get it all and work with her harder..

    Good luck to you all.


      Hi Stephanie,
      We are sorry to learn of your unfortunate news. It is never easy when we find out that a loved one is ill, pet or human. We are glad to hear that you reached out to Dr. Mason. She is extremely knowledgeable, caring and invested in what she does, and she is a lovely person.

      You and your dog’s surgeon will need to decide the best course of action regarding a full amputation or a limb sparing procedure, but I do not think that I would be overly concerned with my dog’s knee having problems due to a previous TPLO. The stresses on the rear legs, when one arm is removed, are not greater than when the dog has all four limbs. Granted, the stresses are slightly different (angles, physics). I’ve wondered how a limb sparing technique would have worked out for Sasha, though I have no regrets with the course of action that we took.

      Good luck to you and your buddy. We wish you both the best! Please write back to update us on the decisions you make, and your dog’s progress.


        Thank GOD for you, my heart goes out to this precious anmail and all the innocent beings out there. I love them all. I am so happy this sweet lamb was rescued. Thank you thank you thank you!


    My dog, a 6 year old chocolate lab, has osteo sarcoma. He was diagnosed the last week of August and had his leg amputated around September 1. He just had his fourth dose of chemo yesterday. We live in Tulsa. Does anyone know of a study or help nearby? He shows no signs of ill-health.


      Hi Marcy,

      I am very sorry to hear that your pup was diagnosed with bone cancer. How is he doing after the amputation? How did he do with the chemo? I personally don’t know of studies near you, but maybe you can look into universities near you to see what studies they are running?

      You can also check out the Facebook page of Chase Away K9 Cancer, they often share information on what colleges or other places may be doing to help our furry friends.

      A great support page is Tripawds.com. They have a website and a Facebook page.

      Best wishes to you and your pup!


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