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by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 Ph.D. | Photos by Henry Moore Jr.

While working in a private clinic in Melbourne, Australia, Canadian-born veterinarian Dr. Kevin Choy of Vancouver, British Columbia, saw a lot of elderly patients and he noticed something. Although veterinary medicine was capable of managing many chronic illnesses, cancer was not one of them.

“We are getting better at managing other chronic diseases in animals such as heart disease and diabetes that would normally have been associated with a grave prognosis, but cancer is one of the few medical fields that we are learning more about every day” said Dr. Choy, an oncology resident at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

So he decided to learn more about cancer treatment and left private practice to continue specialized training and devote his career to helping animal patients with the hope that some of the knowledge could be useful for human cancers.

With such a commitment to cancer care and research, it was little surprise that Dr. Choy received this year’s Paul and Lynnea Thibodaux Oncology Resident Research Fund in Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Choy plans to use the awarded funds to treat more patients in a pilot study between the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

“The awarded money will allow us to enroll more patients in the study,” explained Dr. Choy. And that could help save lives by generating more consistent and reliable data. Past studies that have grown and tested cancer cells in a laboratory have not always provided useful, consistent result for treating patients.

In the pilot study, Dr. Choy and his fellow researchers are looking at lymphoma in dogs to see what types of chemotherapy are the most successful in killing cancer cells in individual patients. Lymphoma is currently the most commonly diagnosed immune cancer often affecting breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Boxers, and German Shepherds. The goal of the study is to one day develop a method that will individualize chemotherapy treatments with greater success and fewer side effects.

“If cells are dying, then we know a particular drug is working,” said Dr. Choy. “We hope to develop a method to allow veterinarians to better select the appropriate therapy that minimizes side effects and is effective so that we do not needlessly administer cancer medications to patients without benefit.”

Though the research conducted at WSU will be piloted in animals first, the hope is that the results may lead to better treatments for resistant tumors in humans as well.

“We all know pets and people that have been touched by cancer,” said Dr. Choy. “I want to help animals and ultimately contribute to improving cancer treatment in people as well.”

Paul and Lynnea Thibodaux started the Paul and Lynnea Thibodaux Oncology Resident Research Fund in Veterinary Medicine to give deserving students a chance for a great education that would give them a successful career in veterinary medicine. The Thibodauxes came to WSU in 2006 when their blue merle Australian Shepherd named Doc (a.k.a. Dr. Schnaut von Heineyshniffen) was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 5. After 18 radiation treatments, the meningioma went into remission, but four years later the tumor returned. Doc was brought back to WSU for radiation treatment. The Thibodauxes said WSU was wonderful to Doc and the veterinarians continue to follow up on his status. They are forever grateful for the additional time WSU gave them with Doc.