Hitting cancer for six

"Extraordinary field of research": Jo Davidson and Bradman relax at home following an injection as part of the EnGeneIC cancer treatment trial.

Meet Bradman. He is a 12-year-old springer spaniel kelpie cross, and he could help save your life.

The former stray, who found Jo Davidson and her family at the Winmalee shops when he was just a puppy, is currently taking part in a ground-breaking cancer treatment trial that could mean the beginning of the end of conventional chemotherapy.

Bradman was diagnosed with a 1cm wide astrocytoma, a type of brain tumour, in December of last year after suffering seizures.

Dr Philip Brain at North Ryde’s Small Animal Specialist Hospital (SASH) told the family about the EnGeneIC trial developed by scientists Himanshu Brahmbhatt and Jennifer MacDiarmid using a treatment that delivers chemotherapy straight to cancer cells via genetically engineered bacteria.

“It’s a targeted chemotherapy treatment,” Jo told the Gazette.

“Instead of chemotherapy being a more invasive treatment and the body reacting and quality of life being less than what it should be, they have found this process to target the tumour.”

In layman’s terms, the scientists fill an inert particle left behind when the bacteria divide with tiny quantities of chemotherapy and inject them into the patient’s body.

Trillions of the specially-filled particles are injected at a time and most go direct to the cancer cells, releasing toxic chemotherapy when they are attacked by the cancer cells and killing them.

The process eliminates the need for more invasive chemotherapy, hence the side effects that affect a patient’s quality of life.

Bradman began his treatment a week before Christmas, Jo taking him from Winmalee to North Ryde every week for injections and neurological testing.

“[He had a scan] five weeks from the start of treatment in December to follow up, and the tumour that presented as 1cm in size was almost not visible,” Jo said.

“Except for the days when he comes home [from the treatment] and feels a little bit ordinary, his quality of life is OK.

“In the last few weeks he has been amazingly well.

“The reality is we want him to be the absolute success story.”

The canine trials, which have been going since 2008 and involved 16 dogs, have since led to human trials with 22 people undergoing the treatment in Melbourne.

The technology is now moving onto the next stage involving between 20 and 30 patients both in Australia and overseas.

But Jo said there was a need for more funding of the research and early positive results like Bradman’s proved it was promising.

“There is a need for research money, it’s an extraordinary field of research in the treatment of cancer,” she said. “We are privileged to be a part of it.”

May 6 to 12 is Brain Cancer Action Week. For more information, log onto braincanceraction.com.au.