Dog's jawbone procedure gives promise to humans

DAVIS, Calif.

Whiskey is a dog. And like most dogs, Whiskey loves to chew on pretty much anything. That's why his owner, Tom Swierk, got worried when Whiskey's constant chewing suddenly stopped. He said, "He loves the chew stick and he wasn't eating it."

Swierk thought it was a toothache, but the vet told him the awful truth -- it was cancer.

"The tumor was at the largest tooth and the defect was six centimeters," said veterinary oral surgeon Dr. Frank Verstraete.

Almost the entire left side of whiskey's jaw would have to be removed to save his life. It's an operation that's historically left dogs severely disabled.

"Their quality of life definitely is impaired, they cannot catch a ball, play tug of war after such a procedure," said Verstraete.

But researchers at U.C. Davis found Whiskey was a perfect candidate for a cutting-edge procedure.

"This is implanted into the defect site, it's a flexible material, and it's a collagen sponge," said biomedical engineering fellow Dr. Dan Huey.

Held in place by a titanium rod, the sponge is soaked in a special protein that attracts the canine body's natural stem cells and encourages them to grow new bone.

"And by two weeks, we can feel hard tissue forming underneath the skin, and by three months, we have near native density," said Huey.

Whiskey becomes the president of an exclusive club, since only eight dogs have ever had this procedure performed and his is by far the biggest.

"We have not seen complications of any kind, so we are thrilled with the result," said Verstraete.

Researchers say the success has far-reaching implications for dogs and eventually for humans, even if the line between the two sometimes gets a little blurry.

"We've just never treated him like a dog. He's just part of the family and there's just nothing we wouldn't do for him," said Swierk.

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