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What is Stem Cell Therapy?

For many of us, the term stem cell brings to mind associations with hotly debated moral and ethical issues. There is, however, another side of stem cells and stem cell therapy. I am very excited to report that stem cell therapy has arrived in the veterinary arena without controversy or contest. The process uses stem cells collected from an adult body’s own fat.

So how is it that an adult body still has stem cells Stem cells are simply undifferentiated cells that can be found in most tissues in the body. These cells remain primitive or undifferentiated, waiting for the body to need them. Many people think of their bodies and cells working in a very quiet and orderly fashion. This is, however, far from reality. Our bodies are like a war zone. Inside- there is chaos and destruction everywhere. On a microscopic level, the body is constantly rebuilding just to maintain itself. Our body calls on these undifferentiated cells every day to maintain health in our organs, in bones and on the skin. Without stem cells, we could not survive.

A single stem cell is able to differentiate or turn into many different tissues such as tendon, cartilage, bone or organ depending where it goes. The controversy on the human side is over using embryonic stem cells. These cells, taken from embryos, have the ability to form whole beings- to create an entire new person, dog or sheep. Adult stem cells on the other hand, have the ability to differentiate into many different types of tissues but work to repair. This makes these cells very useful for healing tissues or potentially organs.

In animals, we now have a way to harvest adult stem cells, collect and process them and then replace them in the body where they are needed. The amazing part is that the cells take care of the rest. Stem cell therapy is also known as regenerative medicine. The cells will regenerate the tissue in its close environment.

Currently the process is open for treatment of osteoarthritis, tendon and ligament injuries, and poorly healing fractures. Once a patient has been deemed a candidate for treatment, he or she undergoes a short surgical procedure to collect fat. The fat is most often harvested from around their shoulders or pelvic area. Fat, especially from these areas, is a rich source of stem cells. In fact a small amount, less than 1/2 a cup, can potentially provide enough cells for multiple treatments for your animal. The number of cells harvested varies from patient to patient depending on the quality of their fat so to speak.

The entire process is generally completed in three days. The costs will vary, depending on the number of joints treated, but $800.00 to $1900.00 for the entire process would be a good estimate. For the patient, the procedure involves a surgery for fat collection and then usually sedation to inject the harvested and processed cells back into joints, tendons or ligaments two days later.

Studies are presently ongoing for use of this therapy in treatment of liver failure, feline kidney disease, irritable bowel syndrome and various autoimmune conditions. Thus far the procedure is most commonly used to arthritis and the results have been impressive. Decreased pain with improved mobility, a win-win combination. It is exciting to think where this therapy could lead us. What it has to offer presently and what it could offer to our animal friends in the future.

Current Uses for Stem Cells in Dogs and Cats

  • Canine osteoarthritis hip, elbow, knee, shoulder
  • Canine immune mediated polyarthritis
  • Tendon and Ligament injuries
  • Integrated with surgical repair of joints or ligaments

Are you wondering if stem cell therapy is right for your pet?

Veterinarians have identified their perfect case as a pet with arthritis who meets at least one of the following conditions:

  • Is not responding well or cannot tolerate pain medication
  • Is not a good surgical candidate due to age or health
  • Has arthritis identified in one or more joints
  • Is likely to need long term pain medications
  • Pet owner prefers a natural therapy

Once in the joint the stem cells:

  • Are anti-inflammatory.
  • Change into the specific cell type needed to repair a given area, like cartilage.
  • Provide growth factors to support healing tissue.
  • Home to the injured area for quick repair including revitalizing weakened cells.