Continuing with an ongoing trend, and consistent with the latest developments in recent years, veterinary medicine remains several years ahead of human medicine in stem cell therapy.
As the latest development in veterinary medicine, Phil the horse has been treated with his own adult stem cells, derived from his own bone marrow just 2 weeks ago. Having suffered from a lame knee prior to receiving the therapy, Phil is now back to his usual self, unrestricted in motion and painfree. Increasingly, autologous (in which the donor and recipient are the same animal) adult stem cell therapy is being used in animals to treat a wide variety of ailments which include arthritis, tendonitis and even broken bones. Whether the condition is caused by an acute injury or by age-related degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis, adult stem cell therapy continues to yield remarkable and consistent success in veterinary patients.
According to Martin Vidal, D.V.M., a veterinarian at the UC Davis Center for Equine Health, "The joint is a very delicate environment in horses. The horse has more appropriate mechanical demands than would be comparable to a human. The hope is that the stem cells will incite a reparative process." As Jeff Peck, D.V.M., a veterinarian at the Affiliated Veterinarian Specialists of Orlando, Florida, adds, "We know we’re not going to make those tissues normal, but it will suppress inflammation, slow the progression of degenerative changes in many cases, and also provide pain relief."
As previously reported a number of times on this website, companies such as Vet-Stem in the U.S. and VetCell in the U.K. have accumulated numerous documented cases of the benefits of autologous adult stem cell therapy in animals. To name just a few of the advantages, adult stem cell therapy yields faster healing and shorter recovery times than surgical treatments do, and adult stem cell therapy does not pose a risk of any side effects like medications do. Additionally, since the adult stem cells are autologous, there is no risk of immune injection. The U.K. company VetCell derives the autologous adult stem cells from the animal’s bone marrow, and to date has treated approximately 1,700 horses with an 80% success rate. By comparison, the U.S. company Vet-Stem derives the autologous adult stem cells from the animal’s adipose (fat) tissue, and to date has treated over 2,000 dogs and over 3,000 horses, also with an 80% success rate. With both companies, the procedure is quick, simple, and minimally invasive. Although the treatment is more expensive than conventional veterinary procedures, the adult stem cell treatment actually works, and noticeable improvement is seen almost immediately in all cases, not just in the 80% of cases that exhibit a complete recovery. By sharp contrast, however, conventional surgical and pharmacological therapies, which might initially be less expensive than stem cell therapy, only have a 30% success rate and therefore in the long-term are actually more expensive when repeated treatment is needed, or when improvements are not seen at all. Additionally, reinjury is significantly lower in animals who receive autologous adult stem cell therapy, due to the mechanism of action by which these stem cells activate the healing process. As Dr. David Mountford, a veterinary surgeon and chief operating officer at VetCell, explains, "After 3 years, the reinjury rate was much lower in stem-cell-treated animals: about 23% compared with the published average of 56%" for animals treated with conventional therapies. Furthermore, both VetCell and VetStem report a 100% safety rate. In other words, 80% of the animals treated are found to experience improvement in their condition with a reduction and often a full elimination of the need for medication, while adverse side effects have not been reported in any of the treated animals.
Not only do the stem cells automatically target the injured tissue, but they also stimulate other endogenous stem cells which in turn are mobilized into action and participate in the healing and repair process. Although improvements are usually dramatic and immediate, even after the first injection, additional injections may be necessary, depending upon the age and condition of the animal. Very few animals ever need more than a total or 2 or 3 treatments, however, before they are fully restored to their natural, pain-free state of mobility – which contrasts dramatically with conventional therapies such as most prescription medications which may need to be taken indefinitely, without ever producing any tangible signs of improvement and while even possibly causing further damage to the animal through dangerous side effects and other associated risks.
Ordinarily, injuries of the bones, joints, tendons and ligaments result in scarring of the tissue, which not only prevents full healing but also often leads to further injuries at a later time. Conventional medical therapies do nothing to address the problem of scar tissue directly, and surgical procedures actually make the problem worse by increasing the severity of tissue scarring which in turn merely exacerbates later complications that will inevitably result from the scar tissue, since such tissue can never be fully rehabilitated. Adult stem cell therapy, however, allows for the full and complete healing of tissue without scarring, which not only reduces the risk of re-injury of the same tissue at a later date but also restores full physical performance and function, usually very quickly and dramatically. Such is the case in humans as well as in animals. According to Dr. Robert Harman, veterinarian and founding CEO of Vet-Stem, "Our success in animals is directly translatable to humans, and we wish to share our evidence that stem cells are safe and effective." Additionally, adipose-derived stem cells have been shown in a number of studies to exhibit highly beneficial immunomodulatory properties – which reduce inflammation, among other benefits – in addition to stimulating the regeneration of cartilage and other tissue. (E.g., "Non-expanded adipose stromal vascular fraction cell therapy for multiple sclerosis", by N.H. Riordan et al., published in the Journal of Translational Medicine in April of 2009, of which Dr. Harman is a coauthor). As Dr. Harman further adds, "In the last couple of years, evidence has come out that the cells we use reduce inflammation and pain, and help lubricate the joint. About 200,000 hip replacements are done every year in humans. That’s a very good target for someone to look at cell therapy."
Both Vet-Stem and VetCell use exclusively adult stem cells, derived from each animal’s own tissue. Since the cells are autologous (in which the donor and recipient are the same animal), there is no risk of immune rejection. More specifically, the stem cells that are harvested in these procedures are mesenchymal stem cells, which are highly potent adult stem cells that are found not only in bone marrow and adipose tissue but also in umbilical cord blood. Numerous scientific and clinical studies have been published in the peer-reviewed medical and veterinary literature detailing the regenerative properties of mesenchymal stem cells.
No embryonic stem cells are ever used in either Vet-Stem’s or VetCell’s therapies, since embryonic stem cells are highly problematic in the laboratory, whether they are of human or non-human origin. Among other problems, the risk of teratoma (tumor) formation disqualifies embryonic stem cells for use as a clinical therapy, even in animals. Adult stem cells, however, do not pose such risks and are therefore rapidly accumulating a consistent history of successful clinical treatments in veterinary, as well as in human, medicine.
Of course, Phil the horse did not have to worry about an outdated federal regulatory agency preventing him from receiving his own adult stem cells as a therapy, unlike his human counterparts, at least in the United States. Until the U.S. FDA reverses its stance in which it insists that each person’s own adult stem cells must be categorized as a "drug", and therefore regulated as such, there’s not much hope of any human patient in the U.S. being allowed to receive autologous adult stem cell therapy, unless he or she is fortunate enough to be accepted into one of the very few FDA-approved clinical trials that are currently underway – and even then, half of all patients in each clinical trial will end up in the "control group", receiving a placebo instead of the adult stem cell therapy. It is precisely this politically motivated and scientifically erroneous stance by the FDA that is driving many U.S. adult stem cell companies, doctors and patients overseas where adult stem cell therapy is legally available. Fortunately, however, since the U.S. FDA does not govern veterinary medicine, U.S. animals are not forced to travel overseas for medical attention but instead are actually legally allowed to be treated with their own adult stem cells within the borders of the United States. With veterinary applications of adult stem cell therapies, in other words, there is no horsing around.
As Phil the horse would no doubt agree, it would seem as though the U.S. FDA lacks basic horse sense.