Biomedical engineering helps save dog's life from cancer

6:53 AM, Aug 30, 2012   |    comments
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DAVIS, CA - The dog's name is Whiskey, he's 10 years old, but you wouldn't know it to look at him.

When you watch him happily chew on his chew stick, you'd never know that a few months ago he had part of his jawbone removed.

"When he wasn't eating his chew sticks, I just knew there was a problem," owner Tom Swierk said. "I just thought he had a bad tooth and unfortunately, it was more than a bad tooth."

It was oral cancer; it is often a problem dogs suffer, but veterinarians don't really know why.

"In humans, it is caused by tobacco and alcohol," Professor of Veterinary Medicine and Chief of the Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service at U.C. Davis Frank Verstraete said. "In dogs, obviously that doesn't play at all, but both dogs and cats get it."

In the past, the treatment has often been to surgically remove a section of jawbone suffering from a malignant tumor. The dog's life can be saved and it can live for a long while, but with nothing to replace the missing piece of bone, quality of life can suffer.

"They can't catch a ball, or play tug of war after such a procedure," said Verstraete.

Now, however, biomedical engineers at UC Davis pioneered a type of procedure that allows a regrowth of the jawbone.

The defective part of the jaw is reconstructed using a titanium plate, with a piece of scaffolding inserted with proteins to stimulate the bone's regrowth.

"So now we're very excited that we can reconstruct those jaws, align the jaws the way they were beforehand and dogs can lead a perfectly normal and functional life thereafter," Verstraete explained.

So far, the procedure has been tried on 8 dogs including Whiskey, and each one has been a success.

"These eight dogs represent the pinnacle," UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering Dr. Dan Huey said. "[The procedure] worked flawlessly. No complications at all."

This success with bone regeneration has implications, University officials said, not just for other dogs, but possibly for humans as well.

By Jonathan Mumm,


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