We often hear about stem cell research in the media and a lot of
people have a negative connotation with it because they think of fetuses and
umbilical cords being used. There is a new stem cell therapy now
available to veterinarians: adult stem cells, derived from the patient's own
Adipose (fat) tissue contains stem cells that can
differentiate into other cell types (Pluripotent). This means that
they can turn into any substance in the body: bone, cartilage, tendon,
liver, muscle, nerve, etc. Stem cells are programmed to target areas
of the body that have been damaged and morph into the needed cell type to
help repair the area.
Lately, like their human counterparts, pets have
started a trend towards obesity. Also like humans, many pets don't
have a strong enough skeleton to support the additional weight and stress on
their joints, so they start developing joint disease at earlier ages.
Arthritis is painful and even debilitating, preventing us and our pets from
performing our daily routines, whether that is working with our hands or
just chasing a Frisbee or jumping on and off the couch.
Why is this so exciting to veterinarians and pet
lovers? Stem cells therapy provides us with another option for the
treatment of arthritis and tendon injuries. Until now, we have had to
treat palliatively, which means we mask the symptoms of arthritis by giving
pain medications. The use of stem cells actually give us the
opportunity to repair damages cartilage, tendon and bone and improve
joints so they can withstand the normal rigors of daily life. When used
in combination with our other tools (physical therapy, massage, acupuncture,
joint supplements, etc.), we can often get our patients to be completely off
the pain medications, thereby eliminating the side effects.
The process is pretty simple. On day one, your
pet comes in for a fat collection surgery. Most of the time, fat is
collect from the abdomen with a small incision like a spay surgery, only
about 2 tablespoons are required. That fat is sent to the Vet Stem
laboratory and the stem cells are harvested from the fat and concentrated
down into a small amount in a syringe. Forty-eight hours later, the
stem cells are shipped back to the veterinarian, who then injects them into
a problem joint, tendon or even intravenously. If a surplus of stem
cells is harvested, Vet Stem will store the cells in a special cryo unit to
used at a later date.