World’s first clinical trial in Perth could lead to breakthrough treatment for children with sarcoma

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At 17, Angus Hollington faced the sudden need to have his leg amputated after enduring six years of invasive cancer treatment.

“It wasn’t a huge shock,” he said.

“I just thought, ‘Do whatever, fight cancer more than anything.'”

The Perth teenager was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma aged 11, and while several years of chemotherapy would see him win this battle, he later developed a secondary cancer which required the amputation of his leg.

Now 19 and well on his way to a career as an auto mechanic, Hollington has backed a groundbreaking Telethon Kids Institute study that gives man’s best friend a leading role in the fight against cancer.

Angus Hollington says a new sarcoma treatment would mean a lot for children diagnosed with the disease.(ABC News: Grace Burma )

How pet dogs could unlock a new treatment

The study, led by Associate Professor Joost Lesterhuis, is testing an immunotherapy gel on pet dogs undergoing surgery for sarcoma, bone and tissue cancer, with the aim of reducing the need for treatments invasive such as chemotherapy.

Sarcoma is a very common cancer [in dogs]just like in children,” Dr. Lesterhuis said.

“So it was an ideal setting to test the gel.”

The gel is applied around the surgical wound before closure and acts as a prompt for immune cells to attack any remaining cancer cells.

Maggie, a three-year-old bull terrier, was one of six dogs included in the trial.

So far, none have seen a recurrence of their cancer.

A picture of Maggie, a white Bull Terrier with a black leash
Three-year-old Maggie the bull terrier took part in a clinical trial for a treatment for sarcoma and is doing well now. (ABC News: Grace Burma )

It is hoped that the development of the gel will progress to clinical trial in children in the next few years and ultimately reduce the need for more traditional and toxic treatments.

“That means you can hopefully get away with it on a relatively lower dose,” Dr. Lesterhuis said.

“It is a cruel disease and the lifelong side effects that children suffer from more traditional treatments include learning difficulties, infertility, speech and vision problems and even secondary cancers where the treatments themselves cause the development of new cancers.”

A close up of Joost wearing a light blue collared shirt
Joost Lesterhuis says he hopes a trial in children can begin in the next few years. (ABC News: Grace Burma )

Mr. Hollington remembers those side effects well.

“My first cycle of chemo, I was extremely sick. I barely moved from the bed,” he said.

“I’ve always been positive but I’ve always felt sick or sick.”

Promising first signs

Dr Lesterhuis said he had been working on the gel concept for several years and the results of the first veterinary trials this year had been positive.

“We take a tube of blood about two weeks after applying the gel,” he said.

“We can then look at the immune cells in the blood and test if they are activated.

“So we know it happened in dogs like Maggie. And we know the gel activated the immune cells.”

Angus sits in a wheelchair, looking to the side and holding the head of Maggie the bull terrier who is sitting on the grass in front
Perth teenager Angus Hollington has welcomed the clinical trial of a sarcoma treatment involving companion dogs like Maggie. (ABC News: Grace Burma )

Dr Lesterhuis said that with early indications all positive, the next step would be to expand canine trials of the gel to further establish its safety and effectiveness.

He said he hoped it would only be a few years before human trials were possible.

Mr Hollington said he was optimistic the gel could change the lives of young cancer patients.

“Seeing how Maggie is doing after the operation, I’m hopeful that it will go well in the future,” he said.

“I really hope that over the next few years we find something much better than what we have now so the kids don’t have to go through what I went through.”

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