At 5 years of age, Monty the golden retriever suffered with hip and elbow dysplasia as well as arthritis and immobilizing pain. When other types of treatments failed to help, Monty’s owners Steve and Beth Armogida decided to try stem cell therapy. Their veterinarian, Dr. Charisse Davidson of the CM Surgical Specialty Group in Pasadena, California, used adult stem cells harvested from Monty’s own body fat to treat the dog. As Dr. Davidson explains, “The stem cells aren’t a miracle, but they’re science and they’ve been shown to help in about 77% of cases.” Dr. Davidson removed some of the dog’s fat tissue in a simple procedure and shipped the tissue to Vet-Stem’s laboratories in San Diego where the stem cells were isolated, expanded and then returned to Dr. Davidson who administered the stem cells to the dog at the point of injury. According to Julie Ryan Johnson, DVM, of Vet-Stem, the stem cells “signal other cells to come in, which is an interesting concept called trophism. They’re basically signalling the body to send in other defense mechanisms to come in and clean things up.” Within six months after the treatment, Monty was free of the pain and arthritis and dysplasia that had previously plagued him.
Another successful example involved a 12-year-old golden retriever who couldn’t even stand up prior to receiving adult stem cell treatment, but who was restored to painfree mobility afterwards. According to the dog’s owner, Pat Glazier, “She was like a new dog. She can stand up by herself, she comes when she’s called she can go up and down stairs.”
Veterinary stem cell therapy has advanced most aggressively with race horses, since these are the “patients” who have been in most urgent need of such a therapy, and more than 3,000 horses have been treated with their own adult stem cells thus far. Since embryonic stem cells pose a number of serious risks, not the least of which is the formation of teratomas, which are a particular type of tumor, not only for humans but also for animals, the stem cells that have been used in veterinary medicine are adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells, and are harvested from each animal’s own body. One of the most notable equine cases involved the treatment of the race horse known as Be a Bono, who suffered an injury which could have ended a highly successful career. Instead, after receiving the stem cell therapy, Be a Bona returned to racing and won more than a million dollars in prize money. As Dan Francisco, the horse’s trainer, explains, “You’re always skeptical. You want to see if it works, somebody has to try it. We did. It worked.” Indeed, adult stem cell therapy offers the first concrete evidence of improvement in the treatment of articular cartilage and tendon injuries to which horse joints are particularly vulnerable. Since such injuries in small animals are less of a life-threatening problem than they are in large animals, adult stem cell therapy has made the greatest and most noticeable difference in the lives of horses and dogs. Nevertheless, at least 19 cats have been treated with their own adult stem cells thus far, along with over 1,000 dogs of varying breeds, and more than three times that many horses. The price of the therapy varies according to the particular type and condition of the animal, but generally falls within the $2,500 to $4,000 range. A number of patents have been issued to biotech companies who are driving the development of innovative technology in this field, a recent example of which is a U.S. patent that was awarded to the South Korean company Medipost for its invention of a biodegradable polymer scaffolding on which mesenchymal stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood are stimulated to regenerate hyaline cartilage.
Like many other animals, Monty the golden retriever is now enjoying the benefits of his own adult stem cell therapy in this rapidly developing field. As Dr. Davidson points out, “Maybe this will set an example for the human world to say, look, we’re having success on dogs, maybe we can have success in people too.”