Video: Melanoma drug cures dogs, can it work for humans?

By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/26/2006 7:36:28 PM ET 2006-10-26T23:36:28

Ken Lipmann, an avid outdoorsman, is one of the human volunteers testing a vaccine for melanoma — a potentially fatal skin cancer that strikes 60,000 Americans a year.

"You had to have a tan!" says Lipmann. "None of you ladies would ever look at us if we were pale."

The human results at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center are not in yet, but a few blocks away in New York at the Animal Medical Center, veterinarians heard about the vaccine and asked to try it in dogs.

Dogs, like humans, can naturally get many forms of cancer, including melanoma. In dogs, the melanoma is not usually related to sun exposure, but it can be very difficult to treat, and it's often fatal.

Vet Philip Bergman remembers the first time he tried the vaccine in a dog.

"That was a dog that thankfully underwent complete disappearance of his tumor," says Bergman. "It was remarkable, obviously, to us."

Since then, more than 100 dogs have been treated, including Lawana Hart's Lucky, who last June appeared to have only a few months to live.

"He's great!" Hart says about Lucky these days. "He's got lots of energy, runs around the house, plays with his ball, loves to go out."

The vaccine works so well that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is about to license it as a treatment for melanoma in dogs.

"The success in dogs teaches us that this is a very reasonable strategy to continue to work on with humans," says Dr. Jed Wolchock of Sloan Kettering, who developed the vaccine. "I mean, I think it's the best evidence that this is something that can work if we get the potency in the right place."

Lipmann is certainly encouraged.

"I hope this old dog will outdo the young dogs!" he says.

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