Monday, 16 August 2010 12:15

“Doc –What are stem cells and are they being used in vet medicine?”

Written by  A.J. Neumann, D.V.M.
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Stem cell regenerative therapy is perhaps the most important breakthrough in veterinary medicine since the discovery of sulfonamides and penicillin. I am quite sure that stem cell therapy will become a very important factor in the practice of human medicine as well.

I have just returned from the Western Veterinary Conference at Las Vegas, Nevada, where I attended a program taught by a practicing veterinarian, William Rhoads, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, ABVP Equine, from Whitesboro, Texas. His lecture was entitled, “New Therapies for the Treatment of Lameness in Horses.” One of the treatments he has been using, in certain equine lameness cases, is called “stem cell therapy.”

I learned that there are two types of stem cells. One is the primitive cell, or embryonic cell, which is found in the inner mass of an embryo. The other is the adult stem cell whose source is bone marrow or fat tissue. These adult stem cells are taken or harvested from the fat or adipose tissue of the animal on which they are to be used. By employing these fat-derived adult stem cells, an embryo need not be used and subsequently destroyed.

So what jobs do the stem cells perform in the animal’s body? I like to think of them as the master builders and repairmen of damaged tissue, whatever it may be. I have learned that stem cells will speed up the healing of injured tissue when injected directly into the area.

In addition, they can reduce inflammation and the occurring pain. Stem cells produce a chemical which can block the formation of a scar or reduce one which is already formed. These cells can act to develop new blood vessels in a given area.

Some researchers had thought that these adult stem cells would form tumors, but according to Dr. Rhoads, this is not the case. Apparently, the job of these primitive cells is to regenerate damaged tissue.

Bob Harman, DVM, the founder of Vet Stem in San Diego, California, explained the process of harvesting cells. There are several methods including liposuction and surgical removal of a piece of fat tissue. The procedures are quite simple. It takes about 20 minutes to surgically remove a small piece of adipose or fat tissue from the patient. The sample is prepared and overnighted to Vet Stem. In their laboratory the stem cells are separated from the adipose tissue, concentrated and then overnighted back to the veterinarian who will inject them into the appropriate site in the donor animal.

According to Dr. Rhoads, the typical dose injected into a tendon or ligament site is 3 to 5 cc. This injection is repeated in one to two-week intervals, up to four times. The surplus amount of stem cells can be frozen for an indefinite period, then reconstituted and used when needed.

The chief executive officer of Vet Stem in San Diego, Dr. Harman, says, “While therapy for human uses is still in its early stages, thousands of horses and dogs have already been treated for tendon, ligament and joint injuries and diseases with this company’s technology. So far we’ve helped about 3,000 horses–not just elite athletes, but performance, race, barrel, cutting and reining horses as well as the backyard pet. More than 90% of treated horses have shown at least some improvement, with up to three-quarters of the horses returning to previous performance levels.”

One article published in the January issue of Veterinary Therapeutics revealed phenomenal improvement in dogs suffering from arthritis after receiving adult stem cell treatment.

Dr. Tim McCarthy, DVM., PhD, Dept. ACVS of Beaverton, Oregon, has been using stem cell therapy in his practice for the past eight months on dogs suffering from arthritic and tendon or ligament problems. He says, “I haven’t seen anything like this in 25 years of practice. The dogs improve almost immediately. Not since penicillin have we had something so revolutionary.”

One more report on the effectiveness of stem cell therapy comes from Jamie Gaynor, DVM, who is the medical director of the Animal Anesthesia and Pain Management Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Dr. Gaynor has enjoyed an 80% success rate over the last 18 months in his stem cell therapy on pain-racked dogs suffering from hip arthritis and the most painful of all–elbow-arthritic patients.

“Even though some of our patients have significant structural problems, it seems they are bubbling with great energy,” he said. “They don’t hurt like they did before.”

Dr. Gaynor goes on to say, “stem cell therapy gives us a whole new tool to treat refractory patients. Side effects are minimal. Since the stem cells come from the dog’s own body, it is really a case of helping the dog help himself.”

There are several drawbacks in using stem cell therapy on a horse or dog. Dr. Rhoads emphasized that the veterinarian's diagnosis of the source of lameness or joint and tissue damage must be absolutely accurate. The “quicker” the diagnosis is made and the stem cells administered at the site, the better the chances for complete recovery.

Another consideration is the possible cost of the stem cell therapy. As in any new procedure or the availability of a new drug, cost can be a factor which must be weighed against the dollar or aesthetic value of the patient.

In his lecture, Dr. Rhoads spoke about experiments in which adult stem cells were being injected intraveneously into horses and dogs who were suffering from certain conditions. Just think for a moment – It is known that stem cells can block scarring, cause the formation of new blood vessels and promote the healing process with the elimination or reduction of pain. This could be a life-saving treatment for patients suffering from certain vascular heart diseases and arthritic problems, especially if the cells could be given intraveneously.

In the next few years the treatment of tendon and ligament injuries, plus osteoarthritis and polyarthritis cases, occurring in horses and dogs will involve the use of adipose adult stem cells.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, at the same time, we could use them to regenerate and repair damaged blood vessels and heart muscle in the human family, especially since these cells would come from our own fat tissue!

This is exactly what is happening at the present time in the human medical field. A program was just shown on television depicting doctors injecting adult stem cells directly into the damaged heart muscle of a woman who had recently suffered a heart attack. These stem cells came from her own fat tissue and the program went into great detail in illustrating how the cells were harvested and prepared for use. The medical professionals who were involved with the procedure were anticipating that the implanted stem cells would rebuild the damaged heart muscle and restore some circulation to the area.

Professional and laboratory personnel went on to state that their goal was to use these adipose stem cells to grow heart muscle and organs such as a kidney to be used in transplants–for instance, no more waiting for a kidney donor, just grow your own!

This whole scenario “boggles” my mind but I suppose it is all possible and can be done. However, it seems to me a word of warning might be prudent at this time–“Don’t diet and slim down too far.” You may need to keep a small roll of fat hanging around just to make repairs some day! No wonder that roll around your middle has often been called “your spare tire!”

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