Virginia Tech researcher examining malignant melanoma in horses

January 31, 2006

Malignant melanoma is a dangerous, aggressive form of cancer and approximately 54,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, according to the American Cancer Society. Interestingly, there are many similarities between malignant melanoma in horses and malignant melanoma in people.

Recognizing the extraordinary opportunity for translational research that the disease represents, Dr. John L. Robertson, a professor in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech and director of the college's Center for Comparative Oncology (CECO), has been looking at one experimental treatment.

During a presentation before a regional meeting of the American Cancer Society in Roanoke, Va., Robertson detailed some of the work he is doing with the use of Frankincense oil as a possible treatment for malignant melanoma in horses.

The risk factors for malignant melanoma in people and horses are very similar, according to Robertson. In people, risk factors include pale complexion and hair, exposure to excessive sunlight and sunburns and aging. Horses at risk also have a pale coat of grey to white and there seems to be a correlation to aging, which could be a result of chronic exposure to sunlight, he said. In each, the disease is an infiltrated pigmented malignancy that is difficult to manage. Conventional therapies include chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and surgery.

The disease often affects horses with the development of lesions on the lips, neck, and perineal area.

Robertson presented the story of Chili, a handsome, 11-year old Thoroughbred and champion jumper that was diagnosed with multi-centric malignant melanoma at the age of seven. Told by her local practitioner that there was not much that could be done for Chili and aware of Robertson's interest in evaluating an experimental therapy, Chili's owner asked if Robertson would work with Chili.

That experimental therapy involved the use of frankincense oil, a compound known as a valuable treatment for wounds for more than 2,000 years, and one people are reminded of every Christmas when they recall the Gifts of the Magi brought to the Christ-child.

Frankincense oil is a fragrant botanical oil distillate made from fermented plants, explains Robertson, who adds that it contains hundreds of constituents, including boswellic acid, a component that is known to have anti-neoplastic properties. Scientists have demonstrated that the oil has potent anti-inflammatory effects and anti-tumor properties when evaluated in tissue culture with tumors such as astrocytomas, melanomas, and fibrosarcomas. Furthermore, he said, it appears to have fairly selective anti-tumor activity and does not appear to disrupt normal cells. But much about how it affects actual cancer patients is unknown.

Chili's experimental protocol involved daily injections of medicinal grade, sterile frankincense oil directly into his tumors and the application of oil on topical tumors, while Chili's comfort and well-being was carefully maintained through pain and nutritional management, including copious amounts of his favorite peeled baby carrots and peppermints.

The lesions were observed, measured, photographed, and periodically biopsied, according to Robertson. Those tumor biopsies demonstrated that some small tumor cells were destroyed by the treatment and those treated topically were reduced in size. Unfortunately, however, Chili passed away on October 18, 2005 as a result of the progressive and relentless growth of the non-treated tumors.

Chili's involvement with CeCO and the experimental protocol did result in some important achievements, according to Robertson.

"I think this research on frankincense oil suggests that this ancient medicine may have significant modern uses for chemotherapy of non-resectable malignancies," said Robertson, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. "This research showed that equine melanomas respond to this therapy."

Information gleaned from this Phase I-II National Cancer Institute format clinical trial has supported the development of grant applications and helped in the treatment of five additional horses, Robertson said. A collaboration with the Clinical Research Program at Wake Forest University's Comprehensive Cancer Center is being discussed.
-end-


Virginia Tech

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.