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Rescued Pig Nemo's Successful Cancer Treatment Makes History

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George Goldner knew something was wrong with Nemo right away when he went out to feed his six pigs.

According to Reuters, four months ago the four-year-old, 730-pound Hampshire pig was found laying on the ground and he had stopped eating. So, Goldner and Nemo drove for hours to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA) in Ithaca, NY, where Nemo was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

Although the doctors told Goldner that they were unaware of any pig being treated for cancer before, he was determined to save Nemo. “I want to do everything humanly possible for my animals. They’re rescues, and we [with co-owner Nancy Krieg] keep them for life. Pigs are very smart. If you’re nice to them they’re very friendly. Nemo’s a real performer; he’s attractive, loves people and has a great personality,” said Goldner, according to the Cornell Chronicle which also described Nemo as being “playful as a puppy.” Nemo and the other pigs live at Goldner and Krieg’s rescue, a former dairy farm turned into a sanctuary.

“Although lymphoma has been documented in swine, there aren’t any documented cases of pigs being treated for it. We adapted a treatment plan based on what we know is effective in dogs, cats and humans with lymphoma,” CUHA oncologist Cheryl Balkman said. CUHA resident Emily Barrell, who treated Nemo with medications, explained that because pig’s have necks so much larger than those of most humans, it can be difficult to access their veins and administer drugs.

Surgeons were able to run a catheter through Nemo’s vein to a vascular access port behind his ear, a path for medications “where they would be most effective while minimizing harm.”

Nemo has continued to live at CUHA while undergoing treatment, but doctors say that he is in remission and will likely be able to go home in September. Although, Goldner seems to think that Nemo is having a blast. “He has a better life there. He’s running around digging holes, eating pineapples, communicating vocally and getting lots of love. CUHA’s people play with him and bring him treats, and he plays funny tricks like tossing water at the residents. The vets have cared for him with amazing dedication and thoughtfulness, especially Dr. Barrell. It’s been a wonderful effort on the part of several people: a testament to the outstanding work done at Cornell.”

Goldner wanted Nemo treated no matter the cost. “There were two choices: One was to let him die and the other was to give it a shot.” Barrell adds, “(Nemo) is a really special story about people being innovative and owners being dedicated.” Nemo’s treatment has not saved a beloved pig companion, but also lead the way for future cancer treatment for animals. Barrell says that this history-making treatment of lymphoma in a pig has given researchers a model on which to base future treatment in large animals.

Animal advocates are also applauding this type of research and veterinary advancement. “This is exactly the type of clinical veterinary research we should be doing to treat disease in other animals, ” said Justin Goodman, directory of laboratory investigations for PETA.

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