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Innovative cancer screening offers hope

CANCER IS, without a doubt, one of the most common and worrying conditions that can afflict dogs. Screening and early detection are rapidly becoming watchwords in animal healthcare and now one of the most prolific cancers in dogs can be screened with a simple blood test.

Canine Lymphoma is one of the most prolific cancers in the canine population and accounts for more than 20% of all cancers. And in certain high-risk breeds this figure could be even higher.

The breakthrough, which was announced to veterinary professionals in the UK in November 2006 and in the USA in January at the North American Veterinary Conference, comes as a result of research carried out by PetScreen Limited, a pioneering British Bioscience company. Pet Screen’s innovative screening and treatment optimisation programme was seen for the first time by the public at this year’s Crufts, where it generated a great deal of interest.

The company was co-founded by business partners who share a passion for dogs. The company’s Chairman, Graeme Radcliffe, had tragically lost three young dogs to cancer over a five-year period. His determination to do something positive led to a chance meeting with Dr Kevin Slater, an entrepreneurial bio-scientist. The meeting led to the partnership which founded PetScreen … and the development of technology which will have a significant impact on animal health around the world.

The first of its kind to be made commercially available, the screen is inexpensive, minimally invasive, and relies on a small blood sample which can be taken by any vet, and then conveniently shipped to PetScreen’s laboratories in Nottingham from practically anywhere in the world using a global logistics partnership with the worldwide delivery system FedEx.

The screen has been based on technology which has emerged from the sequencing of both the human and canine genomes. By looking for a "protein fingerprint" in the blood sample, the screen enables a very accurate and sensitive detection of the tumour, but just as importantly indicates that the dog is free of lymphoma. It facilitates regular, routine screening which enables cancer to be detected at a much earlier stage, when, as in humans, treatment has the best chance of success.

PetScreen’s managing director, Dr Kevin Slater commented: ‘The screen should be regarded as part of an overall wellness programme for all breeds.’

Ideally a mature pup should be screened at twelve months and then annually. For high risk breeds and dogs from middle age onwards, bi-annual screening should be considered. Any dog which may have been treated for lymphoma should be screened bi-annually to monitor for recurrence.

To complement the screening technology, PetScreen has developed a robust treatment optimisation programme called DCA (Directed Chemotherapy Assay). In addition, the company hopes to announce screens for other major canine cancers later this year, along with a comprehensive screen for the most common feline cancers.