BACKGROUND: The use of stem cells to treat various health problems in pets first came about in 2003 for the treatment of horses. A few years later, stem cell treatments for household pets, such as dogs and cats, started to become available as an alternative to surgery or more serious procedures. While veterinarians continue to research different applications, so far stem cells are often used in regenerative therapy for dogs in order to help with arthritis and other joint issues. For this purpose, stem cells are taken from the dog’s own fat tissue and injected directly into the diseased joints. (Source: www.harvardpress.com)
TREATMENT: Stem cell therapy is just one of several alternative treatment options now available for pets. Other alternative veterinary medicine includes acupuncture, traditional Chinese herbal medicine, and chiropractic and aquatic therapies. Acupuncture is the application of small-gauge needles to various points on the body for the purpose of eliciting physiological responses in the treatment of almost any disease or condition. Chinese herbal medicine is mainly used with dogs because it is difficult to administer to cats. The herbs come in powder, capsule, and biscuit form. Powder is the least expensive, but most difficult to give. They are used to treat the same conditions as Western Medicine except for surgical conditions. (Source: http://www.holistic-pet-vet.com/chinese-herbal-medicine-for-pets) These treatments have gained popularity as pet owners have become more and more willing to do whatever it takes to keep their animals healthy. In fact, in 2008 the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society reported that the number of veterinarians who have completed their 156 hour long training course in animal acupuncture has quadrupled over the past decade. (Source: www.time.com)
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Veterinarian Ashraf Gomaa from Abbott Animal Hospital in Rehoboth, MA used stem cell therapy to help improve Bubba the bulldog’s hip dysplasia. The adipose-derived stem cell procedure performed on Bubba is the first one to be done in the state Massachusetts. Dr. Gomaa extracted fat cells from Bubba and then put them through a machine which breaks the cells down to the healthy stem cells. The stem cells were then injected directly into Bubba’s hip. An added benefit to the procedure is that since the animal’s own fat cells are used, there are no serious side effects associated with the injections. Although stem cell regenerative therapy does not cure hip dysplasia, it can greatly reduce symptoms and improve the animal’s ability to function. Currently, Dr. Gomaa is the only veterinarian in the area certified to perform this particular procedure. (Source: www.abbottanimalhospital.com)
Dr. Ashraf M. Gomaa, Veterinarian at Abbott Animal Hospital, Massachusetts, talks about stem cell therapy as a new alternative to pain management for pets.
Can you tell me a little bit about Bubba and his conditions before?
Dr. Gomaa: Bubba is now a 2 ½ year old English bulldog. He was diagnosed when he was about four months old with a bilateral moderate to severe hip dysplasia. A hip dysplasia is a hereditary disease. They get it from their parents. Basically any animal that is predisposed to hip dysplasia is going to have issues as far as arthritic conditions as they get older. It causes severe pain. They have difficulty standing, balancing, getting up and down stairs, and getting up from just a sitting position to running around. Once they get moving and are more active, they become looser and it’s not as painful for them, but they still suffer from effects of the arthritis or the inflammation caused by the disease.
Can you tell me about how the stem cell therapy works?
Dr. Gomaa: Absolutely. We basically take the cells from the fat of the animal so there’s no harm at all to that animal. There are no side effects or medications involved. It’s a very safe noninvasive procedure. It doesn’t require too much surgery. The biggest thing is anesthetic risk, which we screen them prior to anesthesia with blood testing. Then we extract and we take the fat out. We process that fat down, which takes approximately three hours to do. Then, we re-inject that activated stem cell back into that animal to the area that has the problem, which in Bubba’s case would be his hips.
What does the activated stem cell do?
Dr. Gomaa: Stem cells are basically the regenerative cells of the body. They do what they want, when they want to do it. Those stem cells react to inflammation; they have an affinity to inflammation. So, they can go to any area of the body that has any type of trauma due to inflammation. It actually attacks and causes an anti-inflammatory effect, just like a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug or a steroid, such as, cortisone.
Why is this a better alternative than cortisone?
Dr. Gomaa: It is safe and it does not have side effects. Right now it is expensive, but if you add up the amount of money that you spend on medication and testing it ends up being a lot cheaper.
What is the cost of the procedure?
Dr. Gomaa: It is approximately $2000.
How long does it take you to anesthetize the animal?
Dr. Gomaa: From the time that we anesthetize the animal, prep them, extract the stem cells to the process, and re-inject it, it takes about three hours.
How long does it take in the beginning part when you’re extracting?
Dr. Gomaa: Just to extract the fat tissue takes about five minutes.
How long does it take to inject the stem cells?
Dr. Gomaa: Injection can take up to 30 seconds.
Are there any animals that are better candidates for this?
Dr. Gomaa: If they have no cancer, they can be a good candidate for this type of procedure. We don’t want to inject a stem cell in a cancer patient because that stem cell would essentially go to that cancer tissue and regenerate it, making it worse.
Is this procedure FDA approved just in dogs?