New oncology centre aims to boost research, treatment of cancer in animals
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CAPE TOWN - In a boost to help treat cancer in animals, the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Veterinary Science and the Southern Africa Animal Cancer Association (Saaca) have teamed up to create an oncology centre for clinical cases and research.
“The goal of this collaboration is to increase the faculty’s capacity to treat cancer in animals,” said Dr Paolo Pazzi, Section Head of Small Animal Medicine at UP who heads the research aspect of the oncology centre.
“This will result in an increase in research in this field. It will allow for earlier diagnosis of cancer and a wider spectrum of effective treatment options for animals,” Pazzi said.
Most patients are cats and dogs with cancer.
At the end of 2020, founder and chief executive of Saaca, Munnik Marais, approached the faculty with a proposal to join forces.
Having spent many years fund-raising for the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), Marais wanted to create awareness of cancer in animals and encourage treatment and research.
Dr Anri Celliers and Dr Varaidzo Mukorera, lecturers in Small Animal Internal Medicine, and Professor Gerhard Steenkamp, section head of Small Animal Surgery, head up the clinical side of the oncology centre, which is based at the faculty’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital (Ovah).
Dr Pazzi explained: “At the faculty, research in the field of oncology includes the investigation of a worm (Spirocerca) that can cause oesophageal cancer in dogs. The faculty has advanced knowledge in the diagnosis of spirocercosis; the differentiation of benign and malignant spirocercosis; and identification of the surgical predictors of survival for neoplastic spirocercosis. It can determine whether dogs with cancerous spirocercosis require surgery. We research which clinical findings or blood work results would give us an indication of success of the surgery and long-term survival after surgery.”
While there are specialist hospitals in South Africa that treat cancer in animals, Ovah is the only one with on-site specialist clinical pathologists/cytologists, and medical and surgical clinicians that work as a team to diagnose and treat cancers.
It currently sees 10 to 30 cancer patients a month, but with the collaboration with Saaca, these numbers are predicted to double.
“Our aim at the oncology centre is to focus on common cancers such as mammary cancers as well as various carcinomas and sarcomas,” said Pazzi.
“Blood or urine tests will aid in the easier diagnosis and earlier treatment of cancers in animals.
“Other planned future studies will look at the role that certain blood cells play in the promotion or inhibition of cancer.”
Dr Paul van Dam, director of Ovah, said the collaboration with Saaca would lead to benefits for the community and the co-creation of knowledge that could contribute to treating oncological conditions among animals.