Olli, a 12-year-old Gordon Setter in Ontario, was suffering from arthritis in his left knee and right hip. Within eleven days of receiving injections of his own adult stem cells, however, Olli is now showing significant improvement.
His vet, Dr. Melissa Boyle, is one of 26 veterinarians in Canada who have been qualified by the U.S. company Vet-Stem to administer the therapy, in which adult stem cells are derived from each animal’s own adipose (fat) tissue.
According to Dr. Deborah Boyd – Olli’s owner, a vet herself and the owner of the Grey Bruce Pet Hospital where Olli was treated – conventional veterinary therapies were ineffective in treating Olli and in fact his condition only worsened in response to such therapies. Now, after having tried adult stem cell therapy on Olli, Dr. Boyd is so pleased with the results that she asked her own physician why the same type of autologous adult stem cell therapy is not available for people. In response, as Dr. Boyd explains, "She just looked at me and said, ‘You veterinarians, you’re 10 years ahead of us.’"
Although the cost of the veterinary stem cell treatment runs between $1,500 and $2,500, conventional veterinary knee surgery for a dog of Olli’s size would have cost between $1,500 and $3,000 or more and also would have required expensive and dangerous medications for an indefinite period of time. Furthermore, the success rate of conventional surgeries and medications is much lower than that of adult stem cell therapy. Additionally, should the animal need future stem cell treatments, Vet-Stem’s fees also include banking services for 4 more doses of the animal’s stem cells at Vet-Stem’s laboratories in San Diego for the next year, after which time customers have the option of continuing to bank the cells at an annual fee of $120.
Dr. Thomas Koch, a researcher at the University of Guelph, recently received a 3-year post-doctoral fellowship worth more than $1 million for the research and development of adult stem cell therapies in the treatment of cartilage injuries in horses. (Please see the related news article on this website, entitled, "Canadian University Announces Major Adult Stem Cell Research Award on Horses", dated July 18, 2009). According to Dr. Koch, who was asked to comment on Vet-Stem’s therapy for dogs, "There doesn’t seem to be any adverse effects."
Indeed, as previously reported a number of times on this website, the 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. Now, such applications are being repeated by other veterinarians and clinics around the world.
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 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.
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 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.
As numerous reports about more and more pioneering canine patients such as Olli continue to make their way into the veterinary literature, perhaps humans could also learn to benefit from such reports. After all, with enough patience, perseverance, and repetitive training, perhaps it might actually be possible for a few dogs to teach a few old humans some new stem cell tricks.