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Old Dogs Learn New Stem Cell Tricks

News.com.au, March 20, 2009

Once again, veterinarians are healing canine injuries with adult stem cell therapy. This time, the vets and their four-legged patients are in Australia.

Veterinarians in Sydney are applying an already proven technique to the treatment of injuries and degenerative diseases in dogs. The technique, which was first developed in the U.S. by the company Vet-Stem, uses autologous adult stem cells derived from the adipose (fat) tissue of each dog to treat the dog of joint and bone injuries as well as age-related osteoarthritis. Already successful in other countries, the technique is now also showing great success in Australia.

According to Dr. Ben Herbert, associate professor at the University of Technology in Sydney and director of the University's Proteomics Technology Centre of Expertise, "What we see is a pretty rapid, within the first couple of days, reduction in the animal's pain and inflammation. We see animals that are a lot happier, then you go into a zone where the science tells us we are actually getting new cartilage. Longer term, going out now to the dogs treated 9 and 10 months ago, those dogs are still improving."

One such example is Cassie, a 12-year-old border collie mixture whose favorite activity now involves chasing small wild animals. However, prior to receiving the adult stem cell therapy, Cassie suffered from severe osteoarthritis of the hips, and even slow walking was painful for the dog. According to Elizabeth Beyer, Cassie's owner, "Before, going for a walk would be a bit of an ordeal. Now we can do a walk any day of the week. Her hips have improved, she's walking faster. She chases possums and whatever else comes into the garden. It's about quality of life."

The treatment, which has been available at the Ku-Ring-Gai Veterinary Hospital in Sydney for less than a year, has already been used to treat 60 dogs in Australia, whose owners travel with the dogs from across the country to receive the therapy. Although the treatment is initially more expensive than conventional veterinary medicine, the benefits are also greater. Dramatic, positive results are seen immediately after receiving adult stem cell therapy, and the dogs usually do not need any further treatment of any type. Like Cassie, many other dogs who received the autologous adult stem cell treatment have also been cured of their ailments and no longer require long-term anti-inflammatory drugs nor painkillers, most of which do not offer a cure but in fact carry dangerous side effects and, over time, are considerably more expensive than the adult stem cell therapy. From a long-term perspective, therefore, the adult stem cell therapy is actually less expensive than conventional veterinary treatments, such as surgery and medication, which are not as effective and may need to be repeated throughout the dog's life.

As Dr. Herbert explains, "These are the patient's own cells. It's effectively a transplant and it's this idea of switching on the body's own regenerative system." Since the adult stem cells are autologous (in which the donor and recipient are the same dog), there is no risk of immune rejection, nor is there any need for the use of dangerous immune-suppressing drugs.

Overall, the procedure is quick, simple, minimally invasive, safe, effective, and less expensive than surgery or taking prescription medication for years. Although this type of adult stem cell therapy has already become quite popular in other countries such as the U.S., a number of independent researchers have published corroborating evidence throughout the medical and scientific literature on the safety and efficacy of such a therapy.

Currently, Dr. Herbert and his colleages are also developing a similar autologous adult stem cell treatment for dogs with kidney disease. As he explains, "This has given us the opportunity to immediately translate early-stage research into the clinic and get real clinical data. It's on dogs and cats, but it's in the real world."

As Dr. Herbert further explains, "There is nothing really different about doing that in a human being and doing it in a dog." He is quick to add, however, "The regulatory regime is easier to deal with in dogs."

Indeed, it seems to be much easier for old dogs to learn new tricks, at least when it comes to adult stem cell therapy, than for the respective government regulatory agencies of various countries to do so.



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