Campus News

Family tragedy fuels vet’s search for improved cancer treatment

Corey Saba was on a hard line career track in pathology while in veterinary school at LSU. She has always wanted to know more than the simple question, “What is this?” in the diagnoses of diseases in animals. She is driven by the “whys” to get to the source of the underlying issues.

However, while on clinical rotations in her senior year in LSU’s veterinary teaching hospital, she realized that oncology was the perfect bridge between pathology and clinical medicine. It also helped her take a tragic event that occurred early in her life and apply it in a positive way to help animals and humans alike.

“My father died of cancer shortly after I finished veterinary school, and I saw how the cancer and treatments affected him and our entire family,” she said. “I also saw the relationships he developed with his doctors and how they comforted him during times of fear and distress. These personal experiences steered me into a career in veterinary oncology, in hopes of making a contribution toward finding better treatments for cancer as well as helping family members cope with the stresses of fighting this disease.”

Saba received a $30,000 grant from the American Association of Feline Practitioners in 2007-after just one year on the oncology staff at UGA’s Small Animal Teaching Hospital-to conduct clinical trials using a chemotherapy drug lomustine. The study is in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin and Colorado State University, and so far it has seen positive results.

“Tumors are definitely shrinking in some of the cases we’ve seen to date,” she said.

Saba feels fortunate to treat a unique population of pets, as well as interact with their owners.

“We develop valuable relationships with our clients; they trust us to make decisions that are best for their pets,” she said. “Typically the owners of the dogs and cats we treat are willing to spend the resources and time to make sure their pets suffer as little as possible. Since I’ve had a family member suffer from the disease, I feel like I’m able to have open discussions with them about their pets’ treatment options and quality of life, and hopefully give them time to spend with their pets that they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

For Saba, the most exciting part of veterinary oncology is the impact veterinarians have on comparative oncology.

“Dogs and cats develop several of the same cancers that occur in people. Some treatments used in humans have been tried first in veterinary patients,” she said. “Several trials are under way at UGA and across the country to investigate new cancer treatments. Through these trials, our clients’ pets often benefit from the new treatments, and they in turn contribute to finding new cancer treatments for people.”