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Cancer Service Excels Through Teamwork and Research
By Julia Foster Gawley

[Oncology Services]
Sitting, from left: Dr. Melissa Endicott, Dr. Anne Barger, Keri Townsend, Mulligan, Dr. Joanne Messick, Dr. Sarah Charney, Jenny Rose, Zola, Dr. Louis-Philippe de Lorimier; Standing, from left: Dr. Christine Warzee, Dr. Carlos Souza, Nancy George, Charlene Werts, Jackie Fitzgerald, Jill Franzen, Heather Soder, Richard Keen, Dr. Timothy Fan, Dr. Amy Wiedemann, Dr. David Heller, Elizabeth Kennedy, Dr. Hugues Lacoste; not pictured: Dr. Cathy Greenfield.

Cancer is a complex disease, with a wide range of causes, types, and impacts—both physical and emotional—on people and pets. Not surprisingly, the oncology service at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital draws on a large network of specialists to accomplish its mission.

At the core of the medical oncology service are its three boarded oncologists, Dr. Tim Fan, Dr. Sarah Charney, and Dr. Louis-Philippe de Lorimier. Brought on board by Dr. Barbara Kitchell, who left Illinois last summer to start an oncology program at Michigan State, these three function as a unit to achieve the major goals of the service: caring for pets with cancer, contributing groundbreaking research to the field of oncology medicine, and providing excellent clinical training and formal graduate coursework to students and residents.

While the three clinicians share the duties of running the service, each one brings unique strengths. Dr. Charney focuses more on clinical training, clinical trial research, and public engagement, and Drs. Fan and de Lorimier are more oriented toward investigational research and teaching.

“We’re able to set goals and combine our strengths to achieve what would be hard for one person to do alone,” says Dr. Fan.

Cancer patients and their owners benefit from the work of a great many people throughout the oncology service and the rest of the teaching hospital.

Says Dr. de Lorimier, “We have a great team of oncology technicians, residents, and soft-tissue surgeons working with us.”

In addition, oncology patients are often seen by the diagnostic imaging and radiation service for X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, or radiation treatments. The clinical pathology service assesses biopsies and blood work for cancer cells and markers, and the surgery service is called upon to remove malignant tumors.

The oncology service is currently looking to add a new resident and radiation oncologist, while the surgery service seeks to hire a soft-tissue surgeon who would work closely with the oncology team.

Clients of the service frequently turn to the CARE helpline to help owners deal with the emotional aspects of disease.

Basic and applied research forms an integral part of the oncology service. “Our research program is a major factor in the development of veterinary oncology at the University of Illinois,” notes Dr. Fan.

The service’s main research focus is on a class of drugs called amino-bisphosphonates, which are used to treat skeletal malignancies such as osteosarcoma. Additionally, research is being done on cox-2 inhibitors, which enhance radiation damage to tumors such as squamous cell carcinoma and nasal adenocarcinoma.

Clinicians have presented findings at conferences of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American Cancer Society. As a result, the oncology service receives referrals and questions from several other veterinary schools, and the team is also beginning collaborative efforts with specialists across the Urbana campus. Much of what they learn is relevant to treatment of human patients with cancer.

By conducting research that advances the standards for cancer treatment, our service also raises its profile and that of the hospital. Dr. Fan believes having a reputation for innovative cancer research will help the service compete with cancer specialty practices, despite our Urbana location.

Research also provides an important underpinning for clinical education. The service currently has five residents who are all required to conduct clinically relevant basic research in addition to seeing clinical cases.

Dr. Fan explains, “The clinically relevant research spills over into clinical training because it generates new theories, medications, and protocols to try with patients. This allows our residents to become renowned in the field, while preparing to take the oncology board exam.”

Drs. Charney, de Lorimier, and Fan have been busy equipping and staffing research laboratories, upgrading treatment facilities and services, and recruiting new personnel. They have been eager to speak to audiences of veterinarians and animal owners throughout Illinois to share their excitement about the important work going on to improve companion animal as well as human health.

“We are very happy and confident about the new start with our team of dynamic, young oncologists,” says Dr. de Lorimier.

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