WCVM specialist brings cancer expertise

Veterinary medical oncologist Dr. Valerie MacDonald (left) with Rosemary Ward and her dog Winnie at the WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre. Photo: Michael Raine.

Veterinary medical oncologist Dr. Valerie MacDonald is providing cutting-edge cancer therapy to pets at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine on the University of Saskatchewan campus.

MacDonald, a veterinarian who has expertise in veterinary medical oncology, joined the college’s faculty in October 2006. This fall, the specialist established a clinical service in veterinary medical oncology at WCVM’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

“I work closely with western Canadian veterinarians who want to refer their patients to our new veterinary medical oncology service or need to consult with me about specific cases,” says MacDonald, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (medical oncology).

Originally from Pictou, N.S., MacDonald graduated from the University of Prince Edward Island’s Atlantic Veterinary College in 2000. After spending two years in private practice, MacDonald completed a three-year veterinary medical oncology residency at the University of Wisconsin.

Besides her clinical duties, MacDonald is responsible for developing undergraduate teaching and research programs in veterinary medical oncology at WCVM. In addition, she will eventually develop a clinical residency program for veterinarians who want to specialize in veterinary medical oncology.

While a number of American institutions have established veterinary medical oncology programs, the specialization is still fairly new in Canada. WCVM, the Université de Montréal (St. Hyacinthe) and the Ontario Veterinary College have veterinary medical oncologists on faculty. Private clinics in Calgary, Toronto, Montréal and Ottawa also employ board-certified veterinary medical oncologists.

Therapeutic vaccine for canine melanoma

• One specialized treatment that is now available to western Canadian pet owners is a new therapeutic vaccine for canine melanoma, an aggressive and deadly form of cancer that often appears in dogs’ mouths, nail beds or foot pads.
• The vaccine, whose initial use is limited to veterinary medical oncologists, is designed to work in conjunction with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
• Clinical studies have shown that the vaccine is effective in increasing the life span of dogs diagnosed with canine melanoma.
• This is the first time that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a therapeutic vaccine for the treatment of cancer in either animals or humans. The canine melanoma vaccine received conditional approval from the USDA in 2007.
• The vaccine is injected into the muscle of a dog’s hind leg using a carbon dioxide-powered delivery device. No anesthesia or sedation is required.
• The melanoma vaccine was developed through a partnership between Merial, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Animal Medical Center of New York.

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