What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells simply explained are your own animal’s repair cells. They are found in high numbers in fat tissue and they have the ability to transform into any number of cells in the body when activated such as bone, cartilage, muscle, liver, nervous tissue, blood vessels and much more. They serve as a sort of self repair system and given their unique regenerative abilities, stem cells offer new potential for treating diseases. Compared to the options of invasive surgeries or expensive long term drugs, often stem cell therapy is the more logical and safer choice for arthritis and degenerative joint disease. Adult stem cells are highly concentrated in the fat tissue with 50 to 1000 times more stem cells present than in bone marrow making it very easy to obtain millions of stem cells in a minor procedure. These first generation stem cells can be harvested and isolated in a same day in-clinic procedure and then re-introduced into the arthritic joints or even given intravenously making the procedure easier and less expensive than older techniques. It is also extremely safe with no reported side effects in thousands of cases of stem cell therapy used in dogs and cats over the last 10-12 years.
Platelet rich plasma or PRP is blood plasma that contains concentrated amounts of platelets and growth factors. PRP is non surgical and advanced means of providing high doses of the body’s own healing factors directly to the area where they are needed. PRP can aid stem cell therapy in the treatment of many ailments such as degenerative joint disease, hip dysplasia, soft tissue injuries, and when applied topically, wound healing as well as healing eye injuries. Blood is simply collected from the pet and goes through a short process in the lab to separate the plasma rich in platelets and growth factors and then it is activated with special LED lights. They contain bioactive proteins that can initiate tissue healing and assist in reducing inflammation. One can think of PRP as the fertilizer and stem cell therapy is the new seeds. When combined together they have amazing abilities to repair and heal damaged tissue.
Primary uses of Stem Cell Therapy
The primary uses of stem cell therapy are in the treatment of degenerative osteoarthritis which is very common in dogs. This may be congenital hip or elbow dysplasia where the pet has poor joint conformation and as a result there is inflammation and wearing of the smooth articular cartilage leading to pain and lameness. Many older dogs and some cats suffer from reduced mobility due to worn out joints and this can lead to a cycle of reduced activity, muscle loss, weight gain and ultimately early euthanasia in some cases where it is just too painful to get around and it is determined the quality of life is reduced to the point the owner may feel it is not worth going on.
In a recent study of 155 dogs with moderate to severe osteoarthritis treated with MediVet’s stem cell therapy and overseen by 4 independent veterinarians, after 90 days 99% of the dogs showed improvements in at least one of three analyzed categories.
Stem cell therapy is an all natural, non-invasive, low risk, same day procedure, that has rapid recovery time and is suitable for most animals with no reported side effects.
It has also been used to treat severe allergic skin problems when given intravenously. It has been found that the stem cells provide profound imunomodulation so the body does not react to environmental allergens to the extent it has in the past. Often these dogs have their skin problems settle down within 3 months.
In research cases stem cell therapy has been used to repair large areas of tissue damage. They have been able to demonstrate re-growth of a section of trachea and intestine and have even been able to re-grow a limb in laboratory animals. There have also been cases where a severely damaged spinal cord or peripheral nerves have repaired themselves with stem cell therapy. It is believed that the future of this new regenerative medicine field holds lots of excitement in the future and we will likely see more applications of stem cell therapy to allow the body to heal and repair itself.
How is stem cell therapy performed on your pet?
To start, they undergo a short 15 minute surgical procedure under anesthetic to harvest 20-40 grams of fat. Usually this is taken from an area just under the skin between the belly button and the liver called the falciform fat. It is easy to access and is not used for anything essential in the body. A second location that we can obtain fat from is just behind the shoulder.
We do some pre-screening tests to make sure the pet is healthy. We do not want to treat a pet that may have cancer going on somewhere as it may worsen with the addition of intravenous stem cells. Also we like them to be off of any anti-inflammatory medications for 48 hours.
Once the fat is harvested it is processed in our in-house laboratory which involves a series of reagents being added to it to break it down, several separation procedures with a centrifuge, and then mixed with the platelet rich plasma and light activated in the special intense LED unit. After about 3 hours of processing, the purified stem cells and PRP are ready to inject. The pet is given a light short lasting sedation. We then inject the affected joints. Often some of the stem cell mix can be injected intravenously through a filter as well. Stem cells have a natural homing sense so they will travel in the body to where they are needed. The pet is then awakened and able to go home all the same day.
What are the expected results with stem cell therapy?
Currently there have been over 37 peer reviewed articles published showing the benefits of stem cell therapy. There are some stem cell companies that have you send the fat tissue to them for processing and then they send it back for injection in a few days, however, there have been concerns that the number of viable stem cells reduces considerably with shipping. We utilize the MediVet ActiStem Therapy. It was initially developed in Australia. They now have offices in Kentucky and a Canadian office in Lethbridge, Alberta. It has the benefit of allowing you to do all the processing in house on the centrifugation and warm water bath and agitation system as well as the LED light activation system. The numbers of viable cells with this method are much higher and hence the results are much better.
In a study of 155 dogs lameness decreased by 65%, Range of motion increased by 50%. Owners felt that 92% had increased quality of life and 92% would recommend this system for pets with osteoarthritis. For more information and detailed examples of several cases you can visit the MediVet website at www.medivetbiologics.com.
As an added benefit in the US, they are able to cryofreeze any additional stem cells and they can be sent out to you should the pet need an additional treatment in a few years. This service will be coming to the Lethbridge office in the near future. Most treatments will show benefits for 1-4 years so it is possible that a younger dog may need a follow-up treatment. Stem cell therapy is safe to use alongside other treatments for arthritis such as anti-inflammatory medications and nutritional supplements.