iPad Orangutan Fights Cancer

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Monday, July 23, 2012 - 8:43am

Ape famous for high tech communication skills now dealing with chemotherapy.

An orangutan known for her prowess on the iPad is now fighting cancer.

Peanut, a resident at Miami's Jungle Island, has large cell lymphoma and will be treated with chemotherapy at the tourist wildlife park.

Her caretakers noticed something was amiss two and a half months ago.

"We knew something was a little bit off when she wasn't as hungry or as active, and we were hoping it was a virus or a cold."Jungle Island curator Jason Chatfield said.

All six of Jungle Island's orangutans have learned to use an iPad to draw with their fingers and play picture games, but Peanut and her fraternal twin Pumpkin have enjoyed it the most, their caregiver Linda Jacobs said earlier this year.

Peanut had surgery for an intestinal blockage, and tissue samples were sent for analysis.

"And it came back with the diagnosis of cancer, which was more than a shock," Chatfield said.

So they sent specimens to the avian and wildlife laboratory at the University of Miami.

Comparative pathology, really, is the study of looking at similarities and differences between animals and humans, Dr. Carolyn Cray explained.

In Peanut's case, there were no differences.

Dr. Offiong Ikpatt said had he not been told that the patient was an orangutan, There's no way on earth I would have known it wasn't from man in the first place. It looks exactly like tissue from human beings. The disease itself looks exactly like what you see in human beings."

That could be good news for Peanut, as large cell lymphoma is very treatable in humans.

"This is my first orangutan," said Dr. Joseph Rosenblatt, a lymphoma specialist at UM Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, who is helping with Peanut's treatment plan.

"In humans we can cure 70 to 80 percent of people using a combination of chemotherapy and an antibody called Rituximab," Rosenblatt said, adding that they'll be careful and probably use lower doses initially.

Peanutâ's chemo will be infused at Jungle Island. As with humans, hair loss could be one of the side effects.

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