Stem Cell Therapy
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 fat.
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.