Nemo, Pet Pig, Makes History As First-Ever Porcine Cancer Patient

pig
Nemo is reportedly treated like a "star" at the animal hospital where he recently underwent treatment for lymphoma. Glen Bowman / Creative Commons

Nemo, a 730-pound pet pig, made headlines on Wednesday after successfully undergoing treatment for lymphoma. Researchers now hope to use the porcine patient as a model when treating other larger animals for cancer.

"There were two choices: One was to let him die and the other was to give it a shot," owner George Goldner told reporters from Reuters. "Now I think (Nemo) is definitely bound to provide some help."

About four months ago, Goldner brought his old pal to Cornell Hospital for Animals (CUHA) in Ithaca, New York, after the four-year-old Hampshire pig suddenly stopped rummaging through the trough with his companions, and instead began to lie in the mud by himself. Researchers at the hospital told Goldner that the animal most likely had B-cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

Godner, a self-described animal lover and owner of six pet pigs, asked the doctors to do whatever they could to save the animal's live, regardless of cost.

Now, Nemo's cancer is believed to have gone into remission, making him the first pig ever to undergo treatment for lymphoma.

"Before when large animals were diagnosed with cancer, it was pretty much impossible to treat them," said Emily Barrell, a resident who picked and administered all of Nemo's chemotherapy drugs. "Now we have a model to base it on."

While many cats and dogs have undergone similar chemotherapy treatments in the past, pigs and larger animals are exceedingly difficult to treat, as their veins are usually hidden behind very thick layers of skin. The new method relied on a small metal "vascular access port" fitted with a silicone cover and implanted under the skin behind Nemo's ear, through which doctors could administer the same drugs that humans and dogs receive.

Nemo's chemotherapy represents an important step towards a more inclusive animal cancer treatment that may one day allow all pets to get the care they need - regardless of their size.

"This is exactly the type of clinical veterinary research we should be doing to treat disease in other animals," Justin Goodman, director of laboratory investigation at animal rights group PETA, told reporters.

Although Barrell declined to specify the cost of the treatment, she said that the chemotherapy bill for an adult golden retriever is usually between $4,000 and $5,000. Nemo, weighing roughly the same as a Harley Davidson motorcycle, is about eight times that size.

You do the math.

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