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Virginia Tech researcher examining malignant melanoma in horses

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 frankincen
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Contact: Jeffrey Douglas
jdougas@vt.edu
540-231-7911
Virginia Tech
31-Jan-2006


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