With the goal of facilitating a better understanding and treatment of many disabling human diseases and conditions, on March 9 President Obama removed the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, which had been in place since 2001. During that time, however, stem-cell research for treatment of certain animal conditions has proceeded unfettered.
Since 2003, over 3,000 horses have been treated for bowed tendons, ligament injuries and fractures with injections of adult stem cells. Bypassing the controversial embryonic cell issue and facilitated in part by the lucrative horse racing industry, this regenerative medicine treatment involves removing tissue from the patient, isolating the stem and regenerative cells, and administering the cells back to the patient. These “adult” stem cells are less powerful than embryonic ones but are very effective for treatment of a specific condition. And since the patient and donor are one and the same, complications from rejection are minimized.
After its success in the equine community, in 2005 this technology began being applied to the treatment of canine osteoarthritis, the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs, with more than 10 million dogs afflicted. The treatment restores lame dogs, who often could not climb, run, or even walk without severe pain, to their former healthy and happy selves. Although costly (about $2,500 per procedure), the success of these treatments is paving the way for use in humans. When it comes to orthopedic injuries, such as torn tendons, fractures, and degenerating cartilage, veterinary medicine has outpaced human care. But now, thanks yet again to man’s best friend, someday soon this type of treatment for human orthopedic injuries will be available.
Dr. Kristin Kirkby, a veterinarian at the University of Florida’s Small Animal Surgery and Rehabilitation Center, has used regenerative medicine to treat six dogs with severe arthritis, some of whom might otherwise have been euthanized. She explained that the procedure involves minor surgery with a general anesthesia to collect the fat, which is then sent with overnight delivery to Vet-Stem, located in San Diego. Within 48 hours from the initial surgery, she injects the stem cells back into the patient. These stem cells not only secrete factors that decrease pain, but also stimulate the other cells in the area to heal the injured tissue.
Dr. Kirkby, who is very excited about the future of stem cell research, uses this treatment as just one part of a multi-modal approach that also includes physical rehabilitation and a healthy lifestyle. Although she continually strives to refine the objective evaluation of the treatments she administers, she points out that these treatments are in no way considered experimental, having been successfully tested and utilized since 2003.
If your dog is suffering from hip dysplasia or a severe arthritic condition, contact your veterinarian for more information about whether regenerative medicine is an option. She may refer you to a veterinarian who has completed a regenerative medicine credentialing course. It is also important to remember that any solution should be part of an overall plan for good health for your dog.