Health

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Dogs and Horses Benefit From Stem Cell Treatments

August 12, 2009 05:30 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
The use of stem cell treatments for degenerative arthritis in dogs and horses may open the door for the application of such therapies to humans.

Using Stem Cells to Treat Arthritis in Dogs

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Veterinarians have started using stem cell treatments to help treat dogs and horses with degenerative arthritis, Hilary Lehman reports for The Associated Press. The effectiveness of the treatments, however, which cost “around $2,500 to $3,000 per procedure,” has not been verified by independent studies.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence, the owners of dogs such as Lucy, a 5-year-old Labradoodle, credit stem cells for significant improvements in Lucy’s health and well being. Lucy suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, which made her back limbs unusable. “We didn’t think she’d live anywhere near this long, and I know it’s because of the stem cells,” Carol Fischman, Lucy’s owner, told the AP.

Kristin Kirkby, a University of Florida veterinarian who treated Lucy, says that owner reports in five different cases have been extremely positive: dogs that previously had trouble getting around the house and doing their daily activities seem to have regained much of their agility. Adam Gassel, owner of a veterinary clinic in Irvine, Calif., has used the stem cell treatment for nearly 40 dogs. Gassel claims that “all but 20 percent of the animals show some positive response to the therapy, according to their owners and the requests for pain medicine,” AP reports.

According to Kirkby, the University of Florida plans to study the animals receiving the procedure, evaluating them at the beginning and end of the process and performing regular checkups. “I think it’s an exciting field,” she told AP. “Undoubtedly the future of scientific research is going this way. It’s early on, especially in the small animal side, to know what the results can be.”

Background: Stem cell treatments for animals

In 2003, the California-based company Vet-Stem began developing a stem cell treatment for horses, the AP reports. The therapy “derives stem cells from fat samples taken from dogs and horses,” and is used mainly for the treatment of osteoarthritis, which is the loss of cartilage at the joints. According to Vet-Stem, “the therapy enables animals to replace cartilage and other tissue.”

A 2008 Wired article explains how stem cell treatments work. “Adult stem cells, particularly mesenchymal cells that come from muscle, bone and fat, are cells with a powerful ability to replicate and not a lot of personal identity. They easily take on the characteristics of surrounding cells and they tend to grow quickly once they get there.”

According to the AP, a peer-reviewed study published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research found improvements in horses with tendinitis after the injection of adult stem cells. Two studies published in Veterinary Therapeutics found improvements in dogs with osteoarthritis after treatments with stem cell injections. But according to AP, Jonathan Slack, director of the University of Minnesota's Stem Cell Research Institute, says that “[c]onclusive results on whether the stem-cell injection process actually makes new bone cells in animals don't exist, to his knowledge.”

Later Developments: Advancing stem cell treatments for humans

A new stem-cell therapy popular in the horse racing community will soon be tested in humans. In April, the UK-based company MedCell Bioscience Ltd announced that medical trials on humans for a “stem-cell repair technique” commonly used on racehorses would begin within 12 months. The treatment is meant for people who have injured their Achilles tendons.

According to Reuters, “Patients will receive injections containing millions of their own stem cells, which have been extracted and multiplied up in a laboratory.” The cells can grow new tissue that will help restore injured areas. “The move from clinical veterinary to human medicine is inspiring and unusual—we normally see the translation happening the other way around,” Nicola Maffulli, an orthopedic surgeon who will help conduct the research, told Reuters.
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