It’s all part of Robinson’s science-based approach. “Anatomy is the foundation of medicine and of acupuncture,” she says. “We need to move away from the notion that acupuncture works by stimulating invisible energy systems and recognize its anatomical basis.” Looking ahead, Robinson says she anticipates an expansion into more research, “from nutraceuticals to herbs to acupuncture, laser therapy and more.”
And what does she say to skeptics? People who dismiss complementary and alternative therapies as nothing but hocus-pocus? “I tell them that I am as skeptical as they are. We are not here to promote CAM, but to study its effectiveness and measure its safety.”
High-Tech Meets High-Touch
Known for many years as the preeminent (and largest) animal cancer hospital in the world, CSU’s Animal Cancer Center is famous for its collaborations with human cancer research and treatment institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and the National Cancer Institute. The center sees more than 1,500 new cases every year and trains more veterinary oncologists than any other school, says Susan M. LaRue, DVM, PhD, a radiation oncologist and professor at the university’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
“This truly is a state-of-the-art facility,” LaRue says. “We’ve been doing radiation therapy with dogs since 1957.” The latest innovation: a Trilogy Linear Accelerator, which is the first of its kind in any veterinary clinic or college in the world.
The Trilogy has the capacity to target tumors with a precise dose of radiation, one that is custom-fit to the tumor’s depth, shape and size, thus sparing healthy cells. It also has a built-in CT scanner and digital X-ray machine that allow doctors to monitor a tumor’s changing shape and position with each treatment. The Trilogy can even be programmed to deliver radiation timed to the dog’s respirations in order to prevent misfires if the tumor moves as the dog breathes.
“One type of cancer we’ve really struggled with in dogs is nasal tumors,” says LaRue. “Think about the shape of the dog’s head: You might have a tumor wrapping around the eyes or brain, or going all the way from the dog’s nose to the top of his head. These tumors can have a very complex anatomy.” Before now, she says, treating them was more than tricky, in part because doctors couldn’t administer a big enough dose of radiation for fear of damaging the all-too-important structures nearby. “Now we can get the dose high enough to get the tumor control we need,” she says. “We don’t want to put dogs through this if we’re not going to get cures.”
But while the treatments are space-age, dogs visiting the center are treated to an old-fashioned welcome and plenty of personal attention. “We think that the patients who come in should be happy,” says LaRue. So instead of a standard hospital setting, the center’s waiting area looks more like a doggie day care, with a safe area for dogs to play and relax while waiting for their treatments. “They really like it, and they’re a lot less stressed than the owners,” she says. Most dogs get lots of attention from LaRue’s staff as well. “They get very bonded to my staff and follow them around,” she says. Unlike human oncology patients, she says, dogs really can enjoy the treatment experience, and keeping it as low-stress as possible is one of the group’s goals.
Last year, CSU launched a groundbreaking program called the “Supercluster,” an alliance of science, engineering and business experts designed to foster research and new product development. CSU has two Supercluster programs, one dedicated to infectious diseases, the other to cancer research. CVMBS is one of five colleges participating in the Cancer Supercluster program, and has been behind much of its success thus far.