Batman, dog at heart of cancer research, diesby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A dog named Batman, who was successfully treated for aggressive brain cancer, has died. His case at the University of Minnesota helped shed light on treatment of the disease in humans.
Batman, a shepherd mix, is believed to have died from pneumonia brought on by a lengthy recovery from a seizure in January.
In August 2008, University of Minnesota surgeons removed a life-threatening tumor from Batman's brain called a glioma. Usually surgery alone isn't sufficient to cure a glioma, because the tumor sends out tentacles that infiltrate other parts of the brain.
So researchers followed up the procedure with gene therapy and a custom-made anti-cancer vaccine designed to rev up Batman's immune system. They hoped that by treating Batman, they would gain valuable insights into new ways to treat brain tumors in people.
U of M researcher John Ohlfest helped create Batman's immune therapies. He said studying the dog yielded valuable information.
"Because of Batman, we developed improved methods to generate tumor cell vaccines and a better understanding of the side effects of this therapy. He was a champion for science, but an inspiration for all dogs and humans alike," said Ohlfest.
Autopsy results on the dog are still pending, but Batman's owners Anna Brailovsky and Eric Baker of Minneapolis say they have learned from the university that their dog's tumor had not returned.
The dog's seizures were a side effect caused by the large size of his original tumor. Brailovsky said Batman experienced about a half dozen severe seizures in the months after his tumor was removed. Until this latest seizure, she said he always recovered completely within a day or two.
Brailovsky has created a Web site in her dog's memory.
"We're very thankful that Batman was able to make an impact outside our family," said Brailovsky. "We're grateful to all the people who were touched by him. And we're hopeful his story will continue to raise awareness about the study he was a part of."