Canine Bone Marrow Transplants (BMT)

The bone marrow or stem cell transplant is a procedure that saves thousands of human lives every year.  Today the technology has come full circle and is now available to the dogs that made it possible in the first place. In the last six years, dogs suffering from lymphoma have become eligible to receive the same type of medical treatment as their human counterparts at various hospitals around the country.

Fact: 100% of transplant procedures performed on humans were tested on dogs first.

Angel received her life-saving canine bone marrow transplant North Carolina State University.  However NCSU is no longer performing the procedure, so now we refer you to Dr. Edumund Sullivan in Bellingham, WA for more information on what type of transplant or treatment is best for your dog.

The information on this page is about autologus transplants, which uses the dogs own stem cells.

  • The cure rate for dogs receiving an autologus transplant with B-Cell Lymphoma is 50%.
  • The cure rate for dogs with T-Cell Lymphoma is 15%.
  • The cure rate with chemotherapy alone is 0-2%.

In the last few years donor to donor transplants have become available with very high success rate, up to 70%.



What is Canine Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation?

Canine transplantation is a way for doctors start curing canine lymphoma. Bone marrow transplantation in people is a standard of care and over the last 6 years it’s been proven as an effective therapy for dogs with B-Cell lymphoma.

Vets use Leukophoresis machines during the autologus bone marrow transplant. Leukophoresis machines are designed to harvest healthy stem cells from cancer patients, no donor is necessary. The machines, once used for human patients, are suitable for canine use without modification, as bone marrow therapy protocols for people were originally developed using dogs. For example, the machines used on Angel were donated by the Mayo Clinic.

“It’s not a new technology; it’s just a new application of an existing technology. Doctors have been treating human patients with bone marrow transplantation for many years, and there have been canine patient transplants performed in a research setting for about 20 years, but it’s never been feasible as a standard therapy until now. “Dr. Steven Suter – Assistant professor of oncology in NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine – Medical Director.

About the Canine Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation procedure:

The goal of the transplant is to replace unhealthy or destroyed bone marrow stem cells with normal bone marrow stem cells. For canine patients with lymphoma, it is possible to use the patient’s own marrow stem cells either from the bone marrow or peripheral blood for the transplant. This is called an autologous transplant.

The Conditioning Period

The time immediately before the transplant is known as the, “conditioning period”, usually 7-10 days. The purpose of the conditioning is to destroy as many remaining cancer cells in the body as possible. During this time the dogs are treated with a high-dose of a chemotherapy drug called “Cytoxan“.

In preparation for the harvesting, the dogs receive a drug called granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF, Neupogen) for six days to encourage stem cells to leave the marrow and enter the blood. The shots are given exactly 1 week after the cytoxin is administered. Most patients receive the shots upon arrival.

The Autologus Transplant

When autologous bone marrow stem cells used, a portion of the patient’s marrow is harvested prior to admission for the transplant. The harvesting is done using special human leukapheresis machines under general anesthesia. During this procedure the patient’s blood is passed through the leukaphoresis machine that collects the portion of white cells containing bone marrow stem cells. The process is similar to dialysis.

The remaining white cells, red cells and platelets are given back to the patient. Placement of a special intravenous line, called a double lumen pheresis catheter, is necessary for this procedure.

Once these cells are harvested, the patients entire body is subjected to radiation (called total or TBI) to kill any remaining cancer cells left. Following the total body irradiation, the marrow is transfused into the patient.

After the dogs receive radiation their neutrophils drop to zero and they go into isolation. The veterinary team checks the numbers every single day, and once the numbers rise it’s a good indication that the transplant worked.

How does the transplant affect the dogs?

The dogs don’t seem to be effected by the procedure. People complain of being cold, and dogs usually mimick humans. When Angel went through the procedure they used plenty of heat support throughout to keep her warm. Basically they have a catheter in; the blood is taken out, the blood is run through a machine, the cells are harvested and then the everything else is put back into the dog. The dogs don’t lose anything during the procedure besides body heat.

What are the cure/success rates for dogs that receive the transplant?

We receive inquiries on a daily basis regarding the success rates of dogs that have undergone the bone marrow transplant procedure.

  • The cure rate for dogs receiving an autologus transplant with B-Cell Lymphoma is 50%.
  • The cure rate for dogs with T-Cell Lymphoma is 15%.
  • The cure rate with chemotherapy alone is 0-2%.

In the last few years donor to donor transplants have become available with a very high success rate, up to 70%.

Fact: 100% of transplant procedures used in humans were tested on dogs first.

Angel received the bone marrow transplant in May 2010. She is 6 years CURED and is about to celebrate her 12th birthday!  There are several other BMT PACK members like Mattox and Dolce who are 4 and 5 years CURED after receiving a life-saving canine bone marrow transplant.

These statistics are incredible and give us hope! Especially when you consider this; 98% of dogs that receive chemotherapy alone will relapse within 6 months to 1 year.  There are still many other procedures on the horizon that have the potential to be even more effective than the BMT and we can’t wait to share them with you!

How did this treatment become available to dogs?

All of the current human transplant protocols were originally worked out in dogs. Fact: 100% of transplant procedures performed on humans were tested on dogs first! Scientists began testing cancer treatments on dogs 30 years ago, which resulted in many human lives being saved, so they know that it works!  In fact the scientists who originally discovered this procedure, and won a Nobel Peace Prize for their work, helped bring this therapy back to the dogs.

How much does this procedure cost?

For humans, the bone marrow transplant can cost between $100,000 and $250,000 dollars but most clinics offering this procedure charge between $16,000 – $20,000; about one-fifth of the price. Angel’s procedure cost around $16,000 with medicine, that doesn’t include the $8,000 spent on chemotherapy alone. However your dog can receive a BMT once they are in clinical remission.

What about recovery?

Recovery is a long process that must be taken very seriously. The good thing is that we have a lot of information about how long it will take because dogs are mimicking humans every step of the way. Humans usually complain of being tired for up to 3 years. Since everything happens 7 times faster in dogs, they seem to stay tired for 6 months.

When the dog is released from NCSU they are cancer free and on zero medications. They are predicted to lose a majority of their hair from the irradiation and when it grows back it usually comes in white.

The dogs are put back on their regular diet, but adjustments might be necessary if they still show signs of upset stomach. The dogs are required to get plenty of rest and they should only move around when eating, drinking or going potty. The critical bed rest period lasts for 6 weeks.

If the dog receives a transfusion they are required to have their blood drawn once every week until their platelets are over 100,000; healthy numbers are 200,000. Once the dog’s platelets are up they see the vet once a month for 6 months. After that it’s once every 6 months for 1 year.

If a dog is going to relapse it usually happens within 3-4 months after receiving the bone marrow transplant. Once a dog has been cleared to go home they are considered cancer free, but their final hurdle comes 3-4 months later. If a dog remains in remission w/no relapse after 12 months they are home free and considered “cured”.

Who offers this procedure?

Resources can be found here.