Dogs, people team up to develop drug-testing device that could speed cancer research

SEATTLE – A new device could speed the development of cancer drugs for both people and pets by allowing scientists to test multiple drugs within a living tumor.

The device, called CIVO™, looks like a pocket flashlight studded with needles. It delivers tiny doses of up to eight different cancer drugs or combinations, allowing doctors to study the effects of the drugs simultaneously and saving valuable research time.

Dr. Karelle Meleo, a board-certified veterinary oncologist with ACCES, a BluePearl Veterinary Partners hospital, participated in the clinical trial to test the device and contributed to a study that was published in the May 2015 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Results of the published study show use of CIVO in canine patients demonstrated that microinjection of drugs is toxicity-sparing while inducing robust, easily tracked, drug-specific responses in naturally occurring tumors.

Researchers from Presage Biosciences, who developed the patented device and analysis technology, said the information gained from testing the device on dogs whose owners brought them to ACCES and other local veterinarians for cancer treatment was extremely valuable.

“Cells don’t behave the same in a dish as they do in the body,” said Meleo, who has published multiple scientific articles on veterinary oncology. “Being able to test this device in actual, living tumors is what made this study very exciting.”

After injecting the tumor with microscopic doses of the drugs, about 1/20th the size of a raindrop, the tumor was removed and analyzed to see which drug was most effective at killing cancer cells.

Testing tiny doses of multiple drugs at once not only saves time, it also decreases the risk of exposing patients to unnecessary side effects, Meleo said.

“When treating cancer, there are always going to be drugs that turn out to be a dead end,” said Meleo. “You’re risking toxicity from drugs that are never going to help you.”

While the device was developed for use in human medicine, it may also be a powerful tool in fighting cancer in dogs, Meleo said.

“There’s no reason that it can’t be used in veterinary medicine,” she added.