Boys’ motivation to fight pet cancer grows after UF tour

The Benbasat family is shown with Dr. Rowan Milner. From left to right are Steve Benbasat, Milner, Bryce Benbasat, Dena Benbasat and Josh Benbasat. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

The Benbasat family is shown with Dr. Rowan Milner. From left to right are Steve Benbasat, Milner, Bryce Benbasat, Dena Benbasat and Josh Benbasat. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

By Sarah Carey

When youngsters Josh and Bryce Benbasat of Davie visited the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in November with their parents, they had already established a nonprofit group to raise funds for pet cancer research.
They had already designated the college as the sole recipient and knew about its reputation for excellence and outstanding oncology program through their parents — both UF graduates.

But the boys had no idea that cancer studies conducted at the UF veterinary school help people as well as animals, or that technology routinely used to treat pets was so advanced. A highlight of their tour was viewing live cancer cells under a microscope in the laboratory of Dr. Rowan Milner.

Josh Benbasat, 15, called the experience “awesome and informative” and said he enjoyed meeting the UF veterinarians and hearing them explain how research is conducted.

“They were super impressed with some of the sophisticated equipment, especially the amazing radiology machine that Dr. (Nick) Bacon showed them,” said the boys’ dad, Steve Benbasat, referring to a linear accelerator that is used to treat certain types of cancer through targeted radiation beams.

“They were amazed to learn from Dr. Milner and Dr. Bacon that the very same cancers found in dogs are those found in humans as well, and that finding a cure for pet cancer could definitely lead to a cure for human cancer,” he said.

Bacon, a veterinary oncology surgeon, and Milner, a medical oncologist, both spoke to the family about different aspects of research and patient care affecting pet cancer patients. The family toured the UF Small Animal Hospital and spent time in the oncology ward as well as in Milner’s laboratory, where melanoma and osteosarcoma research are currently underway.

Owner of Trimline, a company that manufactures soft recovery collars — a product used by veterinarians to keep dogs from injuring themselves after surgery — Steve Benbasat is a 1991 graduate of UF’s Warrington College of Business. His wife, Dena, graduated in 1992.

Josh Benbasat views cells under a microscope in Dr. Rowan Milner's laboratory on Nov. 14. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

Josh Benbasat views cells under a microscope in Dr. Rowan Milner’s laboratory on Nov. 14.

Benbasat started his own company right after graduation and his sons grew up curious about every aspect of the operation. They assimilated their father’s philosophy that running a business is important no matter what profession you enter.

“They would always come to me with new ideas to help my business grow, and it was amazing how clever some of these ideas were, from new apps to product inventions,” Benbasat said.

Soon after cancer claimed the life of the family’s beloved dog, Sashi — the same year their grandmother was also diagnosed with the disease — the boys decided they wanted to help other pets with cancer to spare others the pain that they, and their dog, had experienced.

They asked their father if he could create a variation of his collar product that would be trimmed in pink, with all proceeds donated to pet cancer research. On board with the concept, Benbasat began researching existing foundations and discovered that there was no nonprofit organization devoted strictly to raising funds for this purpose.
So with his help, the boys formed one. PAWSitively Curing Cancer Inc., was established in November with the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s oncology research program as the sole recipient.

“The boys are excited about many aspects of this endeavor,” Steve Benbasat said. “Most importantly, they love the fact that they are actually helping find a cure for pet cancer which could possibly lead to a cure for human cancer.”

Additionally, the boys enjoy learning how a company operates, from startup to accounting to marketing, he said.

“They know this will make them more well-rounded individuals no matter what career path they choose, Benbasat said. “They are also very impressed to be working with the University of Florida as they are diehard Gator fans.”

Roughly 50 percent of all dogs over 10 years of age will die of cancer, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The oncology program at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine boasts specialists in surgical, radiological and medical oncology. Some of the current research underway at the college involves the development of cancer vaccines or immunotherapy that will slow the progression of many forms of cancer, including melanoma and osteosarcoma, in both dogs and people.

“The main killer of humans and animals with malignant cancers is spread to vital organs, such as the lungs. We have shown that by manipulating the immune system using a cancer vaccine or immunotherapy, cancer’s progression can be slowed and in some cases the metastatic spread can be slowed and potentially abolished,” Milner said. “Many cancers we study at the CVM are similar to pediatric cancers, which are tragically underfunded. Nevertheless, support from the community, such as the dedicated Benbasat boys and their family, make it possible for us to do more research benefiting animals and humans.”

The Benbasat boys are focused on spreading the word about their new foundation and plan to attend upcoming veterinary conferences and other events in hopes of raising additional funds.

“They now feel that PCC will help find a cure for human cancer and feel the foundation has even a bigger purpose,” Benbasat said.

Share this article with others:
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Twitter

January 2015

Boys’ motivation to fight pet cancer research grows after UF tour

A tour of the UF Small Animal Hospital and an oncology lab reinforced kids’ commitment to raising money for pet cancer research.

Zebu in ICU gets hemodialysis.

Pet zebu recuperating at home after treatment at UF for kidney injury

A pet zebu is recuperating at home after being successfully treated for kidney injury with hemodialysis at UF.

Isaza named to new endowed professorship

Natalie Isaza, a UFCVM faculty member, has been named to a new endowed professorship.

Dr. David Pascual

Scientist aims to break cycle of Brucella infection in humans and livestock

An infectious disease professor at the college aims to break the cycle of Brucella infection in humans and in livestock.

...also in this issue



Around the College