Mention “stem cell therapy” and most people think of miracle cures or ethical controversies surrounding embryonic stem cell research. But there are many types of adult stem cell therapies successfully used in human medicine without controversy.
Veterinarians are also turning to stem cell research to find cures for our four-legged patients.
Doctor Stacey Wallach of Town & Country Veterinary Hospital is one of the first St. Louis area veterinarians to offer a particular stem cell procedure. She tells Patch stem cell therapy is a good treatment option for pets with arthritis, tendon and ligament injuries, bone fractures and hip or elbow dysplasia.
“The typical patient is a geriatric dog,” Wallach said. “Their mind and body is there, but they can't jump on the bed anymore. They might be eight years old and it’s shameful to see them like this.”
Stem cells for animal therapy are extracted from the pet undergoing treatment. Only 20 grams of fat is needed for the procedure, which is surgically removed from the shoulder area. The fat is sent to a lab for processing and the resulting stem cells are sent back to the veterinarian for injection into the pet patient.
Wallach admits the procedure is not cheap. It ranges from $2,000 to $4,000 dollars, but oral medications used to treat the same ailments can be nearly as expensive over time. The advantage of stem cell therapy is that the animal only needs to undergo surgery once, to harvest the stem cells, then yearly injections to maintain the treatment. The amount of fat removed from the patient can be enough to provide stem cells for several treatments.
“If the stem cells are banked, the second procedure is less expensive,” Wallach said. She said additional treatments will not have a surgical fee, making it about one-third of the cost of harvesting, processing and injecting stem cells the first time.
Wallach said the processed stem cells are injected into the animal’s injured area, such as the joints, and then into the blood stream. She said joints that are not showing signs of arthritis can also be injected as a precautionary measure.
Not every pet is a good candidate for stem cell therapy. Wallach said that pets need be healthy enough to undergo general anesthesia. The therapy can not cure cancer or infections. For some dogs, stem cell treatment could be a less stressful procedure than total hip replacement, which costs around $4,000 a hip.
Animals treated with stem cells show improvement within days, and the effects can last for over a year, Wallach said. The treatment is not permanent, so owners are encourage to bank their pet’s leftover stem cells for later injections or be prepared to pay for the surgical procedure again.
Wallach also said that age is never a determining factor in whether a pet should get stem cell therapy, and that only their health is taken into consideration.
“People love their animals and if they know there’s a way to help their animals live a higher quality of life, they’ll do it,” she said. “There are animals that are put to sleep for arthritis, but you can get years more from your pet with stem cell therapy.”
Wallach will be ready to offer the therapy to pets in late January or February. She already has two patients on her waiting list, a bull dog and large mix breed, both with arthritis in multiple joints.
Wallach said she was unable to release the names of the patients on her waiting list due to confidentiality. However, Kingsbury Animal Hospital in University City posted this video of a dog undergoing the treatment at Aarff.com, a website dedicated to senior dogs. Town & Country Veterinary Hospital is a partner with the site.
Kelly Jackson, a news anchor with KSDK and founder of Aarff.com, reports that Duffy, a 10 year old Labrador Retriever, was one of the first dogs to receive stem cell treatment at Kingsbury Animal Hospital in June. By September, when the video was taken, Duffy was running and playing without pain.