Gabriel's Story

As told by Stan Stearns

When I learned that Gabriel had bone cancer, I wasn't ready to accept the prognosis of "amputation, then he might have a year." As I began searching the internet for any information I could find about promising research, I found an article about a clinical trial at Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center which explores a new method for delivering samarium (Sm 153 lexidronam, Quadramet®) that avoids the systemic or whole body side effects. The method involves isolating the blood supply to the affected limb and delivering a dose of the drug directly to the tumor. This sounded like a good possibility, particularly if it could be augmented with other treatments I had been learning about, such as chemotherapy with Cisplatin or Carboplatin and administration of antiangeogenesis inhibitors and zoledronate, an amino-bisphosphonate.

After a 20+ hour drive from our home in Gig Harbor, Washington to Colorado State University's Animal Cancer Center, a Tc99M bone scan done by Dr Phillip Steyn confirmed the MRI diagnosis done by Dr. Par Gavin of Washington State University School of Veterinary Medicine. Gabriel had osteosarcoma of the right distal tibia. Dr. Bill Dernell confirmed that OS of the distal tibia was inoperable if proper function of the leg was to be realized.

I asked Dr. Dernell if he would consider adding the other elements of treatment to Sm-153 EDTMP called for in the clinical trial, all without amputating Gabe's leg. To my great relief, he agreed to this plan. However, since this would be outside the defined trial, I would have to pay for the radioisotope (sm-153). He also suggested the use of external radiation to augment the treatment of the tumor.

After Gabriel was treated, I learned that limb isolation was not used because problems with the arterial cannula were not conducive to long term viability of his leg. The dogs in the study were to have their legs amputated three weeks after receiving the Sm-153. My initial depression after hearing this stimulated me to start thinking about how products and techniques developed at VICI might contribute to an alternative means of concentrating radiochemical therapy with less vascular involvement. Since then, promising strides have been made in developing tools for the targeted delivery of therapeutic agents to primary osteosarcoma sites and bone metastases. See Projects .

By June it was clear that we had lost control of the primary tumor in Gabe's rear leg. The leg was quite swollen and was nothing but a useless burden to him. In a search to find a veterinary oncology center closer than the excellent UC Davis Veterinary School, we discovered that the young veterinary program at Oregon State University has attracted some world class faculty, including the new veterinary school dean, Dr. Cyril Clarke DVM, PhD dipl. ACVCP; Dr. Stuart Helfand, DVM dipl ACVIM (oncology), who is currently treating Gabriel; and Dr. Bernard Seguin, DVM dipl. ACVS surgical oncology, the brilliant veterinary surgeon who performed the amputation of Gabriel's cancerous leg. Ironically, I learned only at this point in the progress of Gabe's disease that Dr. Seguin has been successful in resecting a distal tibial osteosarcoma without loss of joint function.

In memory of our beloved St. Bernard, Gabe.
05/26/2001 - 01/17/2008

April 2007
In an effort to keep the disease from following the usual course of spreading to the lungs, we are beginning an experimental inhalation chemotherapy. More detailed information cannot be provided at this time.

September 2007
Gabe is feeling great, with clear x-rays and a clean bone scan!

January 2008
Just before Thanksgiving, a routine lung X-ray at UC Davis raised concerns that led to Gabe's first CT scan a few days later. The scan confirmed metastatic disease in the lungs. We were able to schedule immediate surgery with Dr. Bernard Seguin of Oregon State to remove the most affected area, the caudal lobe of the right lung.

Gabe recovered quickly, and had a great time during our family Christmas in Alta cavorting in the snow like a puppy. The loss of 40% of his lung volume and being in the thin air at 8500 feet seemed to have virtually no effect.

​On the trip back to Gig Harbor, we stopped in the Portland area for a follow up CT scan at VDIC, an exceptionally well-equipped veterinary imaging center. The scan revealed that the disease had progressed, with mets in the caudal lobe of the left lung and – most disturbing of all – a 1 cm lesion in the cranial lobe of the right lung. On Monday, Dr. Seguin will remove the caudal lobe of the left lung. Hopefully the inhalation therapy will keep the disease in check until the last lesion can be removed.

I still believe that the inhalation therapy is a valuable treatment, but we have more to learn about how to administer it. For example, the prevalence of metastic activity in the lower portion of the lungs would seem to indicate that simple inhalation does not distribute the agent over the entire lung area; gravity is required to make sure it reaches the caudal lobes. Gabe now has to sit through the entire treatment, instead of lying down.
Plus, I suspect that the equipment setup doesn't function well in an environment with low relative humidity. We noticed while we were in Alta that the nebulizer was not producing the cloud of vapor that is usually evident. With the usual 20-20 hindsight, I can guess that the water was probably simply evaporating instead of nebulizing, and can see that it probably would have helped to use a vaporizer or humidifier in conjunction with the nebulizer. Unfortunately, that period of less effective treatment gave the disease a chance to get a better foothold in Gabe's lungs.

So – the setback is discouraging, to say the least. But here we are a year after the initial diagnosis of bone cancer, and we still have a happy, active dog who continues to be a trooper through the entire process.
January 17, 2008
On January 17, 2008, several days after surgery, Gabriel suffered a coronary arrest and could not be revived. After a year of intense study and treatment, he leaves many canine and human friends. The memory of Gabriel and our fight to overcome his disease will not be forgotten. It is our hope that we can help to save both dogs and humans through our own research and through financial support for others searching for a cure.

Many thanks to Dr. Pete Anderson at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas, who communicates more with fewer words than anyone else whom I have met. His information has been of great value in the quest to cure Gabriel.

Places where Gabe was treated

University of California at Davis , Dr.Carlos Rodriguez; chemotherapy (Carboplatin) and inhalation therapy (current)
Oregon State University , Dr. Stuart Helfand, Dr. Bernard Seguin; surgery (amputation) and continued chemotherapy (current)
Veterinary Medical Referral Center of Tacoma , Dr. Karen Comer; chemotherapy and zoledronate administration
Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center , Dr.Bill Durnell, Dr. Philip Steyn; two visits for sm-153, cisplatin, & external radiation
Harbor Animal Hospital , Dr. Carla Rasmussen, Dr. Beth Owen; primary care

Press releases about CSU limb isolation study

University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine  Current primary treatment site
The Children's Cancer Hospital  at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
IsoTherapeutics Group, LLC  Three-legged dog resources
Texas A&M Institute for Preclinical Studies