After pivoting to address the crisis caused by the global pandemic last spring, the team at the Flint Animal Cancer Center is thinking of the future and reimagining what is possible for cancer research, treatment, and prevention.
“Despite the pandemic, cancer hasn’t taken a break and neither has our team,” said Dr. Rodney Page, director, FACC.
“I’m impressed with the creativity that has emerged from unprecedented uncertainty. I’m also grateful to our supporters.
Without their generosity, we would not have the resources to continue our critical work, let alone dream of possibilities.”
Collectively, the cancer center team has identified three areas of opportunity seeded, in part, by lessons learned during the pandemic: expansion of the Consult Service, execution of a new clinical service model, and acceleration of comparative oncology research.
Flint Animal Cancer Center CONSULT SERVICE
Before COVID-19, telehealth was a novel concept for the veterinary community. Strict regulations direct the types of information veterinarians can provide without having an existing veterinarian-client-patient relationship.
Out of necessity, the pandemic opened the door to opportunity as regulatory agencies allowed increased use of telemedicine. We believe the lessons learned during the pandemic will inform regulatory change. While we’ve been answering general questions for owners and consulting with veterinarians for more than 25 years, we’ve chosen to invest in upgrading our consult service interface and staffing to grow this program. We hope to serve more clients and referring veterinarians from around the world as telemedicine gains acceptance.
NEW CLINICAL MODEL
As an academic institution, we are committed to teaching D.V.M. students to be Day One- ready practitioners. It is our job to help them understand the basics of veterinary cancer during their two-week oncology rotation.
“Students have always been members of our care team,” said Dr. Susan Lana, oncology service chief. “In March, when D.V.M. students moved to remote learning, we had to adjust operations quickly.”
Learning to care for patients without students fast-tracked a new dual-service model that has been in design for a few years. And with this year’s addition of medical oncologists Drs. Kate Vickery and Jenna Burton to the team, we are ready to implement our vision.
The new model includes a teaching service and a clinical service. In our dedicated teaching service, our team will see fewer patients to allow time for in-depth student learning. Fourth-year D.V.M. students will work with faculty to understand cancer diagnoses and treatment planning. In parallel, our dedicated clinical service permits us to see more patients, similar to private practices. It also provides our specialists-in-training with the opportunity to develop multidisciplinary management plans for complex cancers that are critical for their specialty careers.
Patients in both services will benefit from our comprehensive care model. Every treatment plan is designed and supervised by our medical, surgical, and radiation oncology faculty. The new model enhances learning opportunities and opens our schedule to provide expert care for more patients.
SEEING POSSIBILITY IN CRISIS
Over the last 10 years, the FACC has built a cancer research core facility, unlike any other in veterinary medicine.
“Our biorepository houses the raw materials (patient biological samples and cell lines); our labs are the toolboxes we use to identify targets for novel drug therapies; and our clinical trials program houses the work site where we test our concepts,” said Page. “This structure provides a springboard for discovery.”
In March 2020, the pandemic changed everything. Rather than rest, cancer center scientists took the time to think creatively to take better advantage of our research infrastructure.
“When we weren’t able to work in our labs, we had the time to get in our heads and think about problems related to cancer and new approaches,” said Dr. Doug Thamm, clinical research director. “We’re discussing non-traditional collaborations between basic scientists and clinical trials or pharmacologists and medical oncologists, focusing on more robust interactions.”
With the infrastructure in place and creativity flowing, Page sees countless opportunities.
“As Einstein said, ‘in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.’ Maybe the silver lining of 2020 is the chance to imagine new possibilities.”