Micki, an 11-year-old German Shepherd in Vancouver, Canada, had developed age-related osteoarthritis in 3 legs. As a result, the dog underwent a ligament operation that was not entirely successful and was accompanied by daily, heavy doses of anti-inflammatory medication, prescribed for indefinite use. Occasionally, Micki was in so much discomfort that a leg brace was required. When a second operation was prescribed for the ligament of a different leg, the dog’s owner, Sandy Draibye, a lawyer, decided that enough was enough. Instead of consenting to further surgery for her dog, Sandy opted for autologous adult stem cell therapy instead.
As Micki’s vet, Amanda Booth, explained, "This is her kid." Although Dr. Booth was personally unfamiliar with the stem cell treatment, she agreed to learn how to administer it anyway. She then harvested adipose (fat) tissue from the dog’s thigh and sent the tissue to the U.S. company Vet-Stem in California, where the stem cells are isolated and returned to Dr. Booth within 48 hours for injection directly into the dog’s injured ligaments and joints.
According to Dr. Booth, "If the other three legs had been in good shape, I would have held off on the stem cell surgery. I researched it before I agreed to do it. My first criterion was finding someone other than the company that says it works." After receiving a number of enthusiastic responses from other vets, Dr. Booth decided to take the plunge and begin acquiring her own experience with the procedure.
As previously reported a number of times on this website, the U.S. company Vet-Stem continues to see consistently high success rates in both canine and equine clinical applications, with an 80% efficacy rate and a 100% safety rate in the animals that are treated with Vet-Stem’s autologous adult stem cell procedure. 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.
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.
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."
Vet-Stem uses 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 Vet-Stem’s procedure are mesenchymal stem cells, which are highly potent adult stem cells that are also found in bone marrow and 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 Vet-Stem’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.
According to Sandy Draibye, owner of Micki, the 11-year-old German Shepherd, "It’s a lot of money, but she’s a lot of dog. I am not wealthy, but I can afford it. Everybody adores their dog. I don’t think they would give it a second thought."
In fact, as Sandy points out, most humans are so impressed by the news of such dramatic recovery in animals that people are becoming increasingly curious about the use of autologous adult stem cell therapy for the treatment of human ailments. As Sandy adds, "They’re wondering about their own joints."