We are pleased to offer stem cell therapy for dogs and cats. Stem Cell Therapy is used primarily for dogs with osteoarthritis but can also be used for tendon and ligament injuries and non-healing fractures.
For many of us, the term stem cell brings to mind associations with hotly debated moral and ethical issues. There is, however, another side of stem cells and stem cell therapy. I am very excited to report that stem cell therapy has arrived in the veterinary arena without controversy or contest. The process uses stem cells collected from an adult body’s own fat. A company called Vet-Stem is currently working with certified veterinarians to provide stem cell therapy for their patients. Currently, we are able to offer this treatment option for dogs, cats and horses.
So how is it that an adult body still has stem cells? Stem cells are simply undifferentiated cells that can be found in most tissues in the body. These cells remain primitive or undifferentiated, waiting for the body to need them. Many people think of their bodies and cells working in a very quiet and orderly fashion. This is, however, far from reality. Our bodies are like a war zone. Inside- there is chaos and destruction everywhere. On a microscopic level, the body is constantly rebuilding just to maintain itself. Our body calls on these undifferentiated cells every day to maintain health in our organs, in bones and on the skin. Without stem cells, we could not survive.
A single stem cell is able to differentiate or turn into many different tissues such as tendon, cartilage, bone or organ depending where it goes. The controversy on the human side is over using embryonic stem cells. These cells, taken from embryos, have the ability to form whole beings- to create an entire new person, dog or sheep. Adult stem cells on the other hand, have the ability to differentiate into many different types of tissues but work to “repair”. This makes these cells very useful for healing tissues or potentially organs.
In animals, we now have a way to harvest adult stem cells, collect and process them and then replace them in the body where they are needed. The amazing part is that the cells take care of the rest. Stem cell therapy is also known as regenerative medicine. The cells will regenerate the tissue in its close environment.
Currently the process is open for treatment of osteoarthritis, tendon and ligament injuries, and poorly healing fractures. Once a patient has been deemed a candidate for treatment, he or she undergoes a short surgical procedure to collect fat. The fat is most often harvested from around their shoulders or pelvic area. Fat, especially from these areas, is a rich source of stem cells. In fact a small amount, less than 1/2 a cup, can potentially provide enough cells for multiple treatments for your animal. After collection, this fat is shipped to a company called Vet-Stem who then harvests and processes the cells and sends those needed back to the veterinarian for injection. The number of cells harvested varies from patient to patient depending on the “quality of their fat” so to speak.
The entire process is generally completed in three days. The costs will vary, depending on the number of joints treated, but $2400.00 to $2600.00 for the entire process would be a good estimate. For the patient, the procedure involves a surgery for fat collection and then usually sedation to inject the harvested and processed cells back into joints, tendons or ligaments two days later. If enough cells are harvested, the Vet-Stem Company will store those cells not needed for the first round of therapy and hold them for later use. Since the cells are autologous (supplied by the patient for its own use) there is no chance for rejection.
Studies are presently ongoing for use of this therapy in treatment of liver failure, feline kidney disease, irritable bowel syndrome and various autoimmune conditions. Thus far the procedure is most commonly used to arthritis and the results have been impressive. Decreased pain with improved mobility, a win-win combination. It is exciting to think where this therapy could lead us. What it has to offer presently, and what it could offer to our animal friends in the future.
Adapted from Dr. Tracy Lord, DVM