A pioneering electrochemotherapy treatment that only attacks cancerous cells has been hailed as “extraordinary“ by vets, after it eradicated all traces of the disease in the first tranche of patients.
North Downs Specialist Referrals (NDSR) in Surrey started offering electrochemotherapy, a form of targeted chemotherapy, in November 2017 and has reported a string of success stories, including the case of Tigga, a cat with a destructive nose tumour that was in complete remission within 44 days of receiving treatment.
In another case, a dog was given the treatment to shrink a tumour before an operation to remove it – only for clinicians to discover the tumour had disappeared.
Gerry Polton, clinical director of oncology at NDSR, described the results as extraordinary and unprecedented.
“They took my breath away because this wasn’t what we were expecting at all,” Dr Polton said.
“We are naturally cautious people, so hesitate to believe the same is going to happen in every single case that follows. But it is impossible not to feel exceptionally optimistic about what we might be able to achieve, given what we have achieved so far.
“It is definitely another step forward and even if we are only adding another weapon to the arsenal, it is a positive move.”
Precise electrical charge
The process of delivering electrochemotherapy is twofold: a mild dose of chemotherapy is given IV to the patient, then a probe is used to deliver a very precise electrical charge to the area on or around the tumour.
This temporarily opens tiny holes in the cells – big enough to allow the drug to enter – that close again in microseconds. This means the drug will only attack cancerous cells, unlike normal chemotherapy, which also kills healthy ones.
Dr Polton said: “The results we are seeing in cases like Tigga’s are unprecedented and we are learning about the procedure all the time. We are always looking for better ways of treating cancer without the effect of harming the patient indiscriminately, and this has proved to be a very effective way of doing this.”
Risks and benefits
The next step is collaborative research to learn more about the risks and benefits of treatment, and how it may impact on the health, welfare, survival rate and prognosis of future patients.
NDSR has seen positive results with all eight procedures performed since November. It is the only referral centre in the UK to offer electrochemotherapy to pets, and one of only a few in the world.