Veterinary colleges or occasionally large specialty clinics generally run clinical trials. Trials can be set up in a number of ways. Sometimes all the pets entered receive a new treatment. Other times, the trial is “double blind” – some of the pets receive the new treatment and other pets receive a standard treatment. The double blind means that the owners and the veterinarians or researchers involved don’t know which pets are getting which treatment.
If you decide that a clinical trial is a good option for your pet, there are some potential bonuses involved in participating. Very often your pet will receive free or discounted care, including diagnostics and tests to check how treatment is proceeding. You may also be helping many pets in the future (people too, as treatments often start out with pets and move to human medical care). There is no guarantee that a new treatment will work, but for pets with an otherwise hopeless prognosis, a clinical trial can mean hope. If a treatment is causing problems for your pet, your pet should be pulled from the study.
To participate in a clinical trial, your pet must meet certain criteria set up for that study. If the research grant only covers Labrador Retrievers with mast cell cancer Stage IV, then your Shih Tzu with Stage IV mast cell cancer doesn’t fit. Many studies require your pet live close to the main research center so that your evaluations and laboratory work can be done there.
To find clinical trials being held for pets with cancer, there are two main resources. The Morris Animal Foundation sponsors many studies and often has requests out for pets to participate. The Veterinary Cancer Society also has a database of clinical trials.
When applying for a clinical trial, you will be required to do quite a bit of paperwork. The trial may pay for additional diagnostic work to see if your pet qualifies or you may be required to have some done at your own expense up front. Your veterinarian will generally be required to provide some information as well.
If your pet is accepted into a trial, you will need to follow the protocol exactly. For example, if a specific diet is required, you need to follow that diet exactly- no cheating with extra treats! The only way the research will have real value is if the variables are controlled and constant.
Finding a clinical trial that your pet qualifies for and getting accepted will require effort on your part, but this effort may pay off for both your pet and other pets in the future.