Dogs are often referred to as man's best friend, but they're more than loyal companions. In fact, they could be life-savers for people diagnosed with cancerous brain tumors.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota are making great strides by studying canine cancer in order to help humans who are struggling with the same condition. Specifically, they are targeting the type of tumor that killed Sen. Ted Kennedy -- and Wednesday will mark a milestone in that research.
With fewer than 24 hours before his surgery, Melody Jean is spending every moment she can with her dog, Murphy.
"We would do anything for him," Jean told FOX 9 News. "He's part of our family. He's one of our kids."
Two weeks ago, the 7-year-old boxer was diagnosed with glioma, a type of brain tumor. At first, Jean was told it was inoperable and that without chemotherapy, Murphy had just two months to live.
"It's devastating because you know and they tell you there's no hope," she said.
Hope was rekindled after Jean, who is from Chicago, found out about the groundbreaking research at the U of M and she met Dr. Liz Phular, who has been working on the study for five years. Now, Murphy will become the 100th dog to participate in the experimental brain cancer treatment.
"Without the grant, we would be looking downhill at this point," Jean said. "Instead, we're hopeful. This is his best chance."
The two-part treatment works like this: The dog's tumor is removed and then, the animal is given a vaccine. On average, the animal can then live at least another year without the side-effects of chemo or radiation therapy.
"It's pretty fantastic that, when we started with Batman five years ago, we would have, that we would do this many cases -- that we would have funding to do this many cases and that we've had the successes we've had," Phular said.
The research isn't just a benefit to pet owners either. It's also helping people like John Huls, who was treated in 2011 and is still doing well, according to his daughter, Becky.
"It was truly a gift," she said. "He was tumor-free for almost 7 months without having to deal with the side effects of chemo or radiation. It allowed my parents to take a great trip to Palm Springs and just to live life again -- and it was a moment of hope in a real hopeless diagnosis."
Murphy will start his treatment on Wednesday morning, and doctors hope it'll help them move one step closer to a cure.
"He's going to help people. He's going to help dogs, and what more could you ask in a horrible situation?" Jean asked.
Phular explained that while dogs tend to go of 7 to 8 months without a tumor, the treatment translates into 3.5-4 years for people. Anyone who wants to learn more can call 612-626-6501.