There’s an empty space in the Leura gift shop where 12-year-old Bradman used to rest his head, while “mum” Jo Davidson served the regular customers.
Earlier this month Bradman died from complications from diabetes, but not before the tag wonder dog could be firmly laid at his feet.
Bradman successfully battled brain cancer thanks to a ground-breaking technique that can bring dogs back from death’s door. Like 19 other dogs suffering from advanced brain cancer, his valiant efforts mean human lives may now be saved through the method.
Just before Christmas last year, the springer spaniel kelpie cross suddenly began having seizures and scans revealed a one-centimetre tumour in his brain. Often in dogs like Bradman the treatment is euthanasia, but Bradman was offered a place on the EnGeneIC trial — a new way of treating cancer developed by Drs Himanshu Brahmbhatt and Jennifer MacDiarmid at EnGeneIC- and Jo gladly took the option.
Five weeks later his tumour was no longer visible in scans. He had no more seizures. Weekly visits to Sydney to SASH (the Small Animal Specialist Hospital) for the EnGeneIC treatment left him sleepy but the next day he was ready for a walk around Winmalee and mostly back to his old self.
“He came out feeling unfamiliar and quiet — with almost hangover symptons — and in a couple of hours or the next day he’d start feeling better,” said Jo. “But it was just extraordinary, the results.”
EnGeneIC co-founder Jennifer MacDiarmid says the basis for their technology comes from genetically engineered bacteria which can deliver chemotherapy straight to the cancer cells. When the bacteria divide they discard a tiny particle that is empty and no longer alive — trillions of these tiny particles, or balls, are filled with microscopic quantities of chemotherapy and sent into the body. Traditional chemotherapy is taken into the body in much larger doses and can have many side effects. This treatment, with a bacterial nanocell, delivers drugs straight to the tumour cell and may also boosts the immune system into action, she explained to the Gazette.
Providing multiple doses of the unique delivery system is expensive for the company (about $25,000 per dog since they are enjoying a greatly increased survival time) but the dogs are the closest way of discovering whether the therapy will work in humans.
“The disease in dogs is very similar to that in humans,” Dr MacDiarmid said. The canine trials were very important because it is an example of a real animal with cancer instead of just doing mouse studies — then you can go direct to people, you have an example of the efficacy of treatment.” Because of dogs like Bradman, Dr MacDiarmid was able “to show clinicians this data and that has given them confidence to go ahead with a trial (in humans)”.
All the dogs lived longer due to the new method (some died from old age or other unrelated conditions) and some are still alive, she said.
EnGeneIC has been working towards this “breakthrough moment” for 11 years and are excited about the future. “We’re using a drug that has never been used in brain cancer before (Doxorubicin) which never would have been used because normally it is too toxic but once we have packaged it in our nanocells, it’s effective. Most of these chemo drugs are poisons (but) if you package them properly they are safe,” she added.
These new trials could change the way chemotherapy treatments are given, Dr MacDiarmid said. Patients in Australia will be taking part in the trials now that it has been judged not only safe in dogs, but also effective, she said.
“We felt privileged to be part of it,” Jo said.
“People got to know him and know his story (and) he’s been able to be part of something that’s much bigger than him. Bradman touched everybody’s hearts.”