Local News

Cancer-stricken dog undergoes bone marrow transplant at N.C. State

Posted January 22, 2009 4:28 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Maverick, a 6-year-old Weinmaraner diagnosed with leukemia, is undergoing a new type of bone marrow transplant this week at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Specialists diagnosed Maverick with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in November after a second tumor was found in his body.

“It was pretty devastating. He's been in pretty good health his whole life. He's always been active. When he was a puppy, we did hunt training,” said Maverick’s owner, Howard Altman, of Norwalk, Conn.



Maverick started chemotherapy and went into clinical remission, according to doctors. Since November, he has continued chemotherapy and has remained in remission.

Nonetheless, doctors gave Maverick from weeks to months to live even if chemotherapy remained effective.

“He's too young to have a terminal illness where there is a zero to 2 percent chance of him surviving,” Altman said.

The dog’s only hope was undergoing a bone marrow transplant.

Finding a matching donor would be time-consuming and expensive. Doctors considered using one of Maverick’s littermates, but that would require DNA from his parents and all of his littermates. With the whereabouts of those dogs unknown, doctors decided to perform an autologous transplant in which Maverick’s stem cells would be harvested and then returned to him following a total body radiation.

Dr. Steven Suter, of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Oncology Service, harvested Maverick’s stem cells during a six-hour procedure Thursday morning.

Late Thursday, Maverick was awake and alert, Altman said. Doctors say they believe the cells taken are healthy enough to perform the transplant.

On Friday, Maverick will undergo full body radiation before receiving the stem cells harvested the day before.

For two weeks following the procedure, Maverick will stay at the hospital’s semi-isolation ward.

The bone marrow transplant costs about $12,000 to $15,000, Altman said. Though Altman and his wife, Marna, have pet insurance, they say coverage limits have been reached. In total, Maverick's medical treatments have cost $25,000.

The N.C. State College of Veterinary Medicine is the first in the nation to offer the canine bone marrow transplant procedure. Maverick is the third dog to undergo it and the first with leukemia.

Dogs receiving the transplant increase their cure rate to 30 percent.

“There is still no guarantee that it will help, but at least it's the best we can do for him” Altman said.

The Altmans were inspired by N.C. State's Bone Marrow Transplant Program and have created a fund to help advance the program. The fund also helps owners who can't afford bone marrow and other cancer treatments for their dogs.