Believer in 'one medicine'
For Dr. Will Eward, the search for a cure for cancer is a cross-species endeavor.
Three days each week, the 39-year-old works as assistant professor in orthopedic oncology, or bone cancer treatment and diagnosis, at the Duke Cancer Institute.
For the remaining two days of the workweek, he works at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas, a specialty animal hospital with locations in Cary, Raleigh, and in Durham.
“I would say I’m a hard-core believer in ‘one medicine,’” Eward said, explaining that he believes in working on medical problems, like trying to find the cure for cancer, by studying both humans and other species. And he’s currently involved in research toward that end.
Eward said he’s involved in what he called a “watershed project” testing an imaging device developed with engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s in trials to see if it can safely and effectively detect cancer cells left behind after a tumor has been removed. The system uses fluorescent probes that are activated in a certain type of tumor.
After testing the device in mice, Eward said he led a trial testing it in nine dogs with tumors that were all patients at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas. The study, whose results were published in the orthopedic journal Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research last year, found one dog with cancer cells remaining after a tumor had been removed. Now Eward said they’re starting Phase II trials to see if the system is effective in humans.
That’s just one project of several. Eward said he’s also involved in an effort to collect tissue samples from dogs that have a type of cancer in the body’s soft tissues, such as in the fat or muscles. It’s rare in humans, but Eward said is more common in dogs. The samples are sent it to a lab in Canada to help with a project to try to differentiate which cells of a tumor are responsible for keeping it alive, and which ones are responsible for growing new tumors.
In addition, he said he’s also working on assembling a bank of cancer tissues. Any time he operates on a dog with a sarcoma, he said, he freezes a sample so that they can potentially be used in the future for testing cancer treatments.
Eward said the “big picture” is to help with the pursuit of a cure for cancer.
“I think it’s the same fight,” he said, in animals and in humans.
What set him on his dual path was an interest in cancer as a veterinarian, Eward said, and then he decided to “go back for more.” He said he’d always thought it would be “cool” to pursue both degrees.
He met his wife, Cindy Eward, who is an animal surgeon at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas, when he was a student at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, where she was then a surgical resident.
He said she taught him how to scrub his hands properly and about “staying calm and being nice” in a tough spot during surgery. Now they do surgeries together at the hospital, which Will Eward said is like having four hands.
“We love to operate together,” he said.