Stem Cell Therapy in Dogs -- Really?

All of us have heard of Stem Cell Therapy over the last two decades for humans and now our pets. First reactions have been skepticism, too good to be true or just out of reach for the average person. In 2006 the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) made a statement in support of the ethical study and use of animal stems cells for the benefit of animal and human health. Stem cell research has been encouraged at a number of Veterinary Schools and research facilities with interesting results. Not all studies of Stem Cell Therapy have involved a control group or comparison with invasive and less expensive treatments. Results can also, vary with the type of recovery care and exercise by the dog's owner.

Two therapies that have been potential for use with inflammation and repairing or regeneration of damaged tissues are Stem Cell Therapy (SCT) and Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP). For this article we will focus on Stem Cell Therapy. Stem cells are found in various tissues of both juveniles and adults. There are, also, undifferentiated cells that can be induced into thinking they are stem cells in the adult. One method that is used to produce a stem cell is through the surgical harvest of adipose (fat) which is sent to a lab to be minced, washed and centrifuged (a simply put) . A cellular pellet is re-suspended and returned for the veterinarian to administrator into the dog. This method of adult Stem Cells from the patient allows the use in a variety of tissues such as connective, cartilage, muscle and bone plus reduce inflammation along with pain relief. Approximately 70% of arthritic dogs showed signs of relief and didn't require a second treatment the first year.

Another method used to obtain stem cells is through the use of porcine (pig) fetus.

Bone marrow can be harvested from a patient and Stem Cells cultured in a laboratory before being used at a site for bone generation and regeneration. It was discovered at the Louisiana State University that 70 million adult stem cells per cubic centimeter are required to repair a fracture in horses. A "fracture putty" was developed by researchers at the University of Georgia containing stem cells that allows them to survive in the environment of a fracture long enough to create a rapid formation of new bone. The putty was first tested on rats and is now being tested on large animals. The hope is that this will evolve for use in humans.

Research has expanded in the area of dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged or weakened heart) in Dobermans at the University of Florida with the use of stem cells to help mend the heart.

Treatment of diabetes in dogs & cats (and humans) with stem cells is being persuaded.

In Bellingham, WA, a successful stem cell transplant was performed on a dog with lymphoma. The dog's blood type was matched with a donor. After the recipient's spleen was removed and recipient received radiation, the stem cells from the donor's blood were intravenously administered into the recipient. The injected stem cells helped the recipient to build immunity and remained cancer-free. The main drawback is the cost ($42,000 in the Bellingham, WA, case).

University of California, Veterinarian School in Davis, California (UCD) is offering kits to veterinarians or horse owners for simplified collection of umbilical cord tissue immediately after a foal is born. The kit is then returned to the UCD Veterinary School where it is processed to derive a dose of stem cells in two syringes with one shipped to the customer or Veterinarian and the other syringe kept frozen for up to four years by UCD. The cost for this service is approximately $1,625 plus storage fee. The advantage to this method is the horse does not have to undergo above mentioned collection methods to obtain stems cells. I could foresee this expanding to other animals in the future.

Stem Cells Therapy is more expensive than most pain medication. Like any new procedure the costs are high and seem to lower as it becomes more common. I have oversimplified Stem Cell Therapy just to give you something to think about the future of Veterinary Medicine and the health of canine friends. Do your research and keep an open mind.