Zoey, the 14-year-old American Eskimo dog, used to suffer from advanced arthritis of the hip, but found no improvement with pharmaceuticals, and hip surgery was contraindicated by his advanced age. Fortunately, however, Zoey’s owner followed the advice of Zoey’s veterinarian, and now Zoey’s hip and quality of life have both significantly improved, thanks to canine adult stem cell therapy.
According to Zoey’s owner, Raymond Walsh, “It did wonders. He is having another round. But had we not given the first shot back in August we might have had to put him under.”
Since Vet-Stem began marketing their services last year, they have now treated more than 1,500 dogs and cats with autologous adult stem cells, extracted from each animal’s own fat. The procedure is quick, simple, minimally invasive, safe, highly effective, and while it is not cheap, it is less expensive than conventional surgical and pharmaceutical therapies which may not be effective at all. The first stem cell extraction and transplant typically run between $2,500 and $3,500, although the second transplant will often cost much less since extraction is only necessary once. In Zoey’s case, additional injections of his own stem cells cost $350 each. As his owner Raymond puts it, “If it prolongs his life, it was worth it.” The entire stem cell extraction procedure consists of the approximate equivalent of 2 or 3 tablespoons of the animal’s own adipose tissue (fat) which is surgically removed under anesthesia and shipped overnight to Vet-Stem’s laboratories in southern California where the stem cells are isolated, expanded and returned two days later to the veterinarian who injects the stem cells back into the animal. Not only do the stem cells automatically target the injured tissue, but they also stimulate 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 sharply 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.
Success stories are common in the field of veterinary medicine with this type of stem cell therapy, which utilizes exclusively adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells, since embryonic stem cells are notoriously problematic and carry a number of dangerous risks, both in humans and in animals, not the least of which is the formation of teratomas (tumors).
Another success story involved the 7-year-old golden retriever named Daisy who, in the summer of last year, received the same type of autologous adult stem cell procedure as did Zoey, at which time adult stem cells derived from Daisy’s own fat were injected into both of her hind legs. Although she had previously been unable to walk at all on her left hind leg, she was restored to effortless and painless mobility following the stem cell treatment. According to her owner, Mary Benik, “She is back to what she was. Before, she had been holding her foot up, favoring it. I hope it continues to work because I have bad knees and I would do it if it could help me.”
In fact, Vet-Stem’s consistent success is becoming increasingly difficult for the human medical profession to ignore, and pioneering patients such Zoey and Daisy are now inspiring similar therapies for humans. According to the CEO of Vet-Stem, Dr. Bob Harman, “When you look at a labrador retriever with arthritis in his hips, that is the same disease that you and I have. Fractures are similar too, even though they are four-legged.”
Indeed, Vet-Stem is now working with the San Diego company Cytori Therapeutics which is harvesting adult stem cells from human adipose tissue for reconstructive breast surgery following a masectomy, by utilizing a proprietary device that has already been approved for use with breast cancer patients in Europe. According to Tom Baker, director of investor relations at Cytori, “Our first application is taking the cells out and combining them with fat to allow fat to be used as a natural filler in breast reconstruction.” Although this is just one example of a very specific application of adult stem cell technology, other applications extend throughout the vast spectrum of degenerative diseases and traumatic injuries, including those of orthopedic, cardiovascular, neurological and immunological origin, in which there is no shortage of companies that have already demonstrated impressive results in human clinical trials, such as, most notably, the adult stem cell company Osiris Therapeutics, among others.
Once again, in a symbiotic relationship that can trace its origins back throughout the millennia, it is unclear today exactly who is training whom, and who is really helping whom, in the ongoing mutual advancement and enlightenment of homo sapiens and our canine companions.