Continuing Oncology Research

Oncology research and Aly Mahaffey seemed to be linked together.

After graduating from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, Mahaffey hit the workforce running, landing a job at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. There she worked as a technologist, performing lab work for a series of oncology research projects.

“Vet school was always a goal of mine,” she said, “but I also wanted to gain some experience after graduating from college.”

While at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Mahaffey was in charge of the lab, getting what she called great management experience.

“I learned a lot there and gained a lot of maturity in the job,” she continued, “but I decided human medicine and research wasn’t what I wanted to do. I really missed working with animals.”

Mahaffey now finds herself as a second-year student in the College of Veterinary Medicine. And while she’s not working on the human medicine side anymore, this past summer she did participate in the College’s Summer Scholar Research Program that introduces veterinary medicine students to research in a wide array of areas.

For Mahaffey, that meant another go of working on oncology research.

This time, Mahaffey’s research was for Dr. Meg Musser, assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences. The research project evaluated the pharmacokinetics high-dose intravenous Vitamin C pharmacokinetics into healthy dogs.

“From the time I learned about the Summer Scholar Program I was interested in working on a research project here in the college,” Mahaffey said. “I really wanted to experience the academic side of research.”

In her first year of veterinary school, Mahaffey made it a point to learn more about the various projects Musser and fellow oncologist, Dr. Chad Johannes, assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences, were involved with.

The more she learned about their work, the more interested she became.

The research she did this past summer is still preliminary but she says is promising. Previous studies have indicated Vitamin C can have a therapeutic effect on cancerous human tumors. This project is looking to see how much Vitamin C can be given to dogs without any serious side effects in addition to seeing if Vitamin C will remain in the dogs’ systems long enough to provide therapeutic results.

The hope is to target bone cancer, which is prevalent in large breed dogs.

“There are few treatments at this point for this cancer and nothing that significantly lengthens the survivability at this point,” Mahaffey said. “We’re looking to see if we can get a strong enough dose into the dogs that will give us positive, therapeutic results, but also not make the dogs sick in the process.”

Mahaffey says in addition to learning more about the research process, the Summer Scholar Research Program provided her with hands-on experiences she hasn’t had before in veterinary medicine.

“This will be really helpful going forward since I have had to perform blood draws from dogs multiple dogs a day,” she said. “Dr. Musser has not only given me a lot of freedom, but significant guidance, while allowing me to sit down and bounce ideas off her.”