Stem cell use in canine orthopedic diseases
It’s hard to turn on the television, listen to the radio, or surf the web and not see something new about stem cells. Since their identification nearly 40 years ago, the seemingly endless potential of stem cells to treat a variety of diseases has intrigued everyone, both scientists and non-scientists alike.
Stem cells have been used in veterinary medicine for more than a decade, primarily in the treatment of orthopedic diseases in horses. The treatments were successful, leading small animal clinicians to try stem-cell based therapies in dogs with osteoarthritis. Early studies demonstrated that dogs had a positive response to stem-cell therapies with very few, if any, side effects. Stem cells evolved into a common treatment for arthritis in dogs, and ongoing research is directed at finding the best way to use these cells for other orthopedic problems.
Morris Animal Foundation funded its first stem cell study in 2009, and since then has been a major supporter of veterinary stem cell research. The foundation is invested in several ongoing research projects focused on all aspects of stem cell biology: optimizing culture techniques, determining how stem cells work, and clinical trials exploring stem cell use in the treatment of specific diseases.
What are stem cells?
Stem cell is a generic term for a special kind of cell that can transform into any type of mature cell, such as nerve cells and blood cells. Stem cells fall into two broad categories: embryonic stem cells and adult mesenchymal stem cells, with adult mesenchymal stem cells the type currently used in veterinary medicine to treat orthopedic problems.
How do stem cells work?
While scientists are constantly discovering new uses for stem cells, the mechanics of how stem cells actually work is not completely understood. Scientists do know that stem cells can be directed to form different tissues, and it also is well recognized that stem cells produce substances that decrease inflammation and promote tissue healing.
How are stem cells collected?
For veterinary purposes, stem cells usually are harvested from fat tissue or bone marrow. Most patients require sedation or general anesthesia during collection, but the procedure is quick and causes minimal discomfort to the pet.
After harvesting, the cells are sent to specialized laboratories that take the tissue, isolate the stem cells, and place them in culture media. Once the cells have multiplied several times, they are collected and given back to the patient from whom they were taken. This requires an injection but usually not sedation or anesthesia.
Morris Animal Foundation is proud to be at the forefront of animal-focused stem cell research, emphasizing our commitment to investing in the best research by the most talented veterinary scientists in the world. To learn more about our studies, visit Our Research.