(l-r) Anne Hensley, Dr. Annie Chen, and Scout.
Scout is one of thousands of patients who has
been helped because of an MRI
When "Scout," a 9-year-old German Shepherd mix, walked into the WSU
Veterinary Teaching Hospital, he went to work right away. Calm and obedient
with friendly eyes and a large scar across the top of his head, he lies down
on the mat his owner, Anne Hensley, puts down for him. She kisses his head,
and he watches her as she sits down. Scout is an assistance dog.
"I was a
civilian volunteer in Vietnam," said Anne, who continues to suffer from
post-traumatic stress disorder. She has also recently been diagnosed with
"Just having him there is essential for my mental, emotional and physical
health," said Hensley, who has lived with Scout for the past 7 years in a
retirement community. Scout, a rescue dog, was paired with Anne through a
dog assistance program. Scout keeps her going. He is life, she says.
Back at home in Tacoma in August 2013, Scout started having intense
seizures about once a week. "The seizures were very intense, very intense,"
The diagnosis: a brain tumor.
When Scout and Anne arrived at WSU, they met Dr. Annie Chen, a veterinary
neurologist. Dr. Chen thought Scout would also be eligible to be part of a
clinical trial to find new ways to treat brain tumors.
The trial uses gene therapy to infect the tumor cells with a virus that
carries a gene called cystosine deaminase. Once the gene is in the tumor
cells, the patient receives a medication that the gene can convert to kill
the tumor cells from within.
"Because animals serve as a model for diseases in humans, the knowledge
from the trial could also one day help humans," said Dr. Chen.
For Scout, it meant that any part of the tumor not removed in surgery,
might be treated by this new gene therapy.
Dr. Chen identified the extent of the mass of the tumor using MRI, and
Scout was scheduled for surgery on November 11. Because of the location of
the tumor, it was a long and complicated surgery. Scout stayed at WSU for
"There was a lot of anxious time," said Anne.
In a chance encounter, Anne met Nikki Hessner, a junior at WSU and member
of the WSU Raptor Club. Nikki was walking through the Veterinary Teaching
Hospital with "Kessie," a resident American Kestrel when Anne came up and
began asking questions.
"She just kept asking questions and we never ran out of things to say,"
They hit it off so well that over the next two weeks Nikki gave Anne a
tour of the raptor mews and of the WSU campus.
"The Raptor Club saved my sanity," said Anne, who was extremely grateful
for Nikki’s company. "This place is full of loving, caring, intelligent
Today, Scout is almost back to his old self. He is able to continue his
important job as an assistance dog and can do everything he could do before
surgery. Scout also went three months before having another seizure, and
this time it was very mild.
"Our goal was to minimize the seizures," said Dr. Annie Chen, a WSU
neurologist. "If we could spread them further apart, that is a good goal."
The surgery and gene therapy could also extend his life. Scout might
have 2-3 years or more years of life, says Dr. Chen. For a 9-year-old dog,
that is a large part of his lifespan.
Scout will return to WSU every 3 months for MRI to see if there is any
tumor regrowth. Because MRI can show better details of soft tissue,
including the brain, any regrowth of the tumor will be seen in its earliest
stages. And that is critical for Scout’s course of treatment.
"MRI can catch the regrowth sooner than other imaging modalities," said
Dr. Chen. "That will let us know if we should do radiation or additional
Anne couldn’t be happier with the care Scout received at WSU. Everyone
from the students, to the doctors, to the hospital staff helped soothe her
mind and spirit, she said.
"This is a place of miracles," said Anne. "It’s not a place you want to
be, but it is the best place to be."