Canine Stem Cell Therapy – Whole Dog Journal

At this time final 12 months I didn’t know stem cell remedy for animals was a factor. While looking for a job the place I might use my biology background and love of animals, I discovered a posting for a stem cell technician at an area veterinarian’s workplace. I  acquired the job! – and have discovered that there are few issues as thrilling as having an element in altering a canine who had been in a lot ache she might hardly transfer to change into one who’s capable of trot round and revel in life once more.

Stem cell remedy is a strong device in treating degenerative or different ailments in addition to damage. It’s an efficient option to regenerate broken or diseased tissue utilizing cells from the canine’s personal physique. It was first utilized in a veterinary context in 2002 for tendon and ligament restore for horses.1 Since extreme leg accidents could be detrimental for horses, notably for these concerned in sports activities of racing and leaping, stem cell remedy was a recreation changer. The outcomes had been exceptional – many of the handled horses had been capable of return to their earlier exercise.

Eventually stem cell remedy was utilized in treating companion animals, primarily for a similar problems with tendon or ligament restore however has largely change into centered on arthritis. While not a cure-all, stem cell remedy is a low-risk method to treating accidents and degenerative ailments, offering our canines with a greater high quality of life with out dependence on drugs.


What is a stem cell? It’s not fairly as easy a query because it sounds. There are several types of stem cells, however the first primary attribute of a stem cell (SC) is that it may possibly change into one in all a variety of totally different cell sorts (known as differentiation), giving rise to totally different tissues. Stem cells are additionally very proliferative, that means they shortly divide and produce extra cells, however at various charges relying on the kind of SC. 

There is a distinction between embryonic and grownup stem cells. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are liable for embryonic improvement. They are pluripotent, which suggests they will become any kind of cell within the grownup physique. And they’re vastly proliferative, extra so than grownup SCs. ESCs don’t exist within the organism after delivery.

An embryo develops from a single cell into a fancy organism composed of a number of tissues. The course of improvement includes many phases, however briefly, a number of cells proliferate and ultimately develop specialised cells that compose all the assorted tissues of the physique. ESCs within the early embryo proliferate, or divide, to provide extra cells in a short time. They are pluripotent, which suggests they’re able to changing into any cell kind within the organism. As improvement proceeds cells ultimately change into extra specialised and fewer proliferative. There are many phases or ranges as SCs transfer towards specialization. 

Early in improvement, ESCs differentiate into one in all three germ layers, every of which supplies rise to sure components of the fetus. The endoderm (endo = inside) offers rise to many inner organs, together with the lungs, pancreas, abdomen, and liver. The mesoderm (meso = center) offers rise to bone, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, muscle, coronary heart, fats, and a few nervous tissue. The ectoderm (ecto = outer) offers rise to neurons, outer layers of the pores and skin and hair. As ESCs divide they produce new SCs which can be specialised to one in all these layers. Those SCs produce extra SCs in addition to “progenitor cells,” the precursors to specialised cells that compose distinct tissues. 

The mesoderm lineage produces mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that are the cells used for remedy. The MSCs are thought-about multipotent (versus pluripotent) as a result of they may give rise to a restricted variety of tissues. MSCs and SCs from the opposite two lineages are current within the totally developed organism however are dormant or inactive till they’re wanted. They are activated by damage or illness at which period they start proliferating and differentiating.


Upon listening to what I now do for a dwelling, associates generally ask me: Isn’t stem cell remedy controversial? In our context, no! The controversy includes using embryonic stem cells. There are objections to their use in people from moral and non secular factors of view. Also, from a medical perspective, ESCs have confirmed to be tough to make use of correctly and in some instances hazardous. Because of their extremely proliferative nature they will truly replicate an excessive amount of. This can result in mutations within the cells which can lead to most cancers.

What we use are grownup stem cells. There aren’t any moral issues as a result of the cells could be extracted from a dwelling organism with minimal danger. For SC remedy within the veterinary context the cells are taken from the identical animal who will use them for therapeutic functions. And as a result of grownup stem cells are much less “hot” by way of proliferation their genome stays far more secure basically eliminating the priority of creating most cancers.


There are loads of grownup SCs in an grownup organism. They are sometimes dormant and change into activated in response to tissue harm or illness, which begins a fancy cascade of mobile and chemical alerts. The native SCs change into activated and migrate to the precise space and proliferate to create extra stem cells in addition to progenitor cells to switch specialised cells (like cartilage or bone) which have been impaired. 

Importantly, MSCs can be utilized to deal with tissues to which they don’t give rise; their primary perform in these instances is to activate the SCs in that tissue. SCs additionally modulate the immune system, lowering the inflammatory response. The main perform of the stem cells used for remedy is to instantly (within the case of tissues of the mesoderm lineage) or not directly (for endoderm or ectoderm lineages) regenerate wholesome tissue to switch what is broken or diseased. 

So, in instances of arthritis or dysplasia the place there’s harm to bone or cartilage, the MSCs produce and change into these cells; in instances of ligament harm they produce ligament cells. In instances of the opposite two lineages the MSCs stimulate the SCs of that lineage to provide new cells, akin to liver cells or pores and skin cells. Since it causes the physique to regenerate new, wholesome cells, SC remedy is also known as regenerative drugs.

To undertake stem cell remedy we should first extract the MSCs, focus them, after which get them to the world of damage or illness. The nearer the cells could be positioned to the precise website of bother the higher. For instances of arthritis the MSCs are injected into the diseased joint; for areas or organs the place injection just isn’t attainable MSCs are administered intravenously. As the SCs journey by the blood to succeed in varied organs they’re out there to reply to particular areas of misery in these tissues.

Most canines who obtain SC remedy might want to obtain a number of remedies. The time between remedies will depend on the person. Repeat remedies are given wherever from one to 2 months to a 12 months or so aside. In my work I’ve seen a number of instances the place the issue has ceased after one therapy. This just isn’t frequent, but it surely does occur.


For SC remedy, MSCs are extracted from the physique of the animal to be handled. They are current in tissue akin to bone, fats, pores and skin, mind, and coronary heart.2 Initially SCs had been extracted from bone marrow. However, there’s a better abundance of MSCs in adipose (fats) tissue, and this tissue is much less traumatic to reap, so that is the supply used most regularly.

There are a number of sources of adipose tissue in a canine. Some vets take fats from the scapular (shoulder) space. Others, together with the veterinarian I work for, Dr. Robert Hagler in Lafayette, California, prefers to make use of fats from the umbilical space. This is a comparatively easy process, however does require common anesthesia. 

After elimination, the fats is processed to extract the stem cells from the tissue (that’s my job!). The tissue goes by a number of mechanical and chemical digestion and separation steps. After a number of hours the output is the stromal vascular fraction (SVF), which has concentrated mesenchymal SCs in addition to different cells and elements that assist the motion of the MSCs. Depending on the veterinarian, the SVF could also be extracted on-site, wherein case the canine is handled the identical day (on the clinic the place I work, we do the processing in-house). The majority of vets ship the fats off to be processed and the SVF is returned for therapy on the second day following harvest at which period it’s administered to the canine.

Usually, there are many cells from the fats harvest for a number of remedies, relying on the situation being handled. The SVF wanted for the preliminary therapy is barely diluted in sterile saline and divided as much as accommodate the variety of injections to be made. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP, extra on this under) is normally added to the SVF to additional assist the stem cell response. We normally save a small portion of SVF to be given intravenously. Extra fats containing cells for future remedies is distributed off to be processed and the cells cryogenically frozen. 

In most instances the canine is sedated for injection. If you’ve ever had an injection right into a joint, you understand that they’re fairly painful and that it’s a lot simpler on the canine to be sedated. If MSCs are administered solely by way of IV, sedation is usually not mandatory. Once the injections are full, the sedation is reversed, and the canine can go dwelling as soon as he has totally recovered.

Future remedies are easier, because the fats harvest and cell extraction has already been accomplished. In our workplace the canine involves the workplace within the morning and has blood drawn for PRP. The blood is processed to acquire the PRP whereas thawed SVF goes by steps to clean and activate the MSCs. Once each elements are ready, they’re administered as described above.

For joint injections, the primary few days following therapy could be extra painful than pre-treatment. The time for optimistic outcomes to be evident varies from canine to canine. The common is a matter of weeks, however in some instances we’ve seen optimistic ends in a number of days, and there are occasions the place it takes a month or two.


Many vets accompany the MSCs with platelet-rich plasma. This substance helps amplify the alerts from the injured or broken space and directs the MSCs to that space. It helps to get essentially the most out of the MSCs which can be used. PRP additionally makes use of the canine’s personal tissue – on this case, blood, which is drawn on the day of therapy. It is processed utilizing a sequence of separation steps to pay attention platelets and a variety of development elements current in blood, after which the PRP is activated. It is mixed with the SVF and administered with it within the injection.

In our workplace we generally use PRP exterior of SC remedy to assist promote therapeutic. The most putting instance of its efficacy I’ve seen was when two canines had tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) surgical procedure for a ruptured ACL on the identical day. Both had earlier TPLO surgical procedure on the opposite rear leg. PRP was administered to the surgical website as soon as the process was full. According to the house owners and Dr. Hagler, each canines had shorter restoration instances in comparison with their earlier surgical procedures and had been utilizing the surgical legs a lot sooner.


Stem cell remedy could be very protected. The MSCs used for remedy are autologous, that means they arrive from the identical canine who will obtain them, so there is no such thing as a danger of rejection. There are basically no uncomfortable side effects from the therapy itself. The therapy course of is rooted within the biology of the animal using the pure therapeutic properties of his or her personal cells.

The most important danger of the remedy has to do with the final anesthesia required so as to surgically take away some fats from the canine. There is all the time some danger in surgical procedures requiring anesthesia – extra so for older or frail canines. In addition, there’s some danger of an infection, since injections are sometimes given into joints. To mitigate this danger, injections of MSCs are sometimes accompanied by a small dose of antibiotic. 

Rocco’s Transformation

Ten-year outdated Rocco out on a stroll two days after his second stem cell therapy. He’s seen nice advantages fro stem cell remedy, together with much less ache, extra vitality, enhancements in his musculature, and a lower of this treatment.

Rocco is a 10-year-old black Labrador Retriever. Thirteen months in the past he had his first stem cell therapy to handle a variety of points together with arthritis in each hips and a neurological challenge inflicting weak point in his rear finish. The ache from his hips mixed with the rear finish weak point made it more and more tough for him to get round. Rocco’s proprietor, Vicki, says that he would squat to urinate and couldn’t get again up. 

He additionally had masticatory myositis – an autoimmune situation that causes the muscle mass concerned in chewing to change into infected and really painful. Rocco was unable to open his mouth with out horrible ache. To add to that he had neurological issues that affected his head and neck leading to laryngeal paralysis. He had such a smorgasbord of neurological signs it was tough to offer him a definitive prognosis.

Before he was hindered by his situations Rocco was an lively canine with a number of pep. He beloved his lengthy walks at an area park. He let his household know he was prepared for a stroll by choosing up his leash in his mouth. He caught treats that had been tossed to him. And he would soar up onto the sofa to hang around together with his household. Vicki describes the heartbreak of seeing Rocco so impaired by ache that he wasn’t capable of decide up his leash or soar as much as the sofa, and once they arrived at their favourite strolling spot Rocco wouldn’t get out of the automobile. Because of the lack of musculature of his head, he regarded very totally different, like his eyes had been sunken in. She describes him trying like a skeleton. Rocco was on drugs for ache and prednisone for the masticatory myositis however was getting little reduction. Vicki was afraid this was the tip of Rocco’s life.

She and Dr. Hagler determined to strive stem cell remedy, and the outcomes had been wonderful. Rocco obtained injections in each hips, intervertebral injections in his lumbar and sacral backbone, and stem cells by way of IV for his head, jaw, and neck. The day after his therapy he was frisky and completely satisfied. He returned to his traditional exuberance about his day by day walks. And, his masticatory myositis and laryngeal paralysis resolved, and haven’t been obvious since. 

While not essentially one of many targets of his SC remedy, Rocco additionally had an extended historical past of digestive points. Despite years of making an attempt to establish and deal with the issue, nothing appeared to assist. Rocco had diarrhea about each different week. He hasn’t had an episode of diarrhea since his SC therapy. Added to the success for the signs that had been focused this was an surprising and great shock!

Rocco simply got here again in for a follow-up therapy, as Vicki had observed among the indicators of his hip ache and rear finish weak point returning. Again, he obtained injections in his hips and between vertebrae, and stem cells by way of IV. The subsequent day Vicki described him as “super spunky” for the stroll that they had simply been on. She describes Rocco’s expertise being “like a miracle” and is so grateful to have her completely satisfied canine again, noting that Rocco’s improved well being has been therapeutic for the entire household.


As I discussed, SC remedy has been used most frequently within the therapy of arthritis, and with important enchancment in ache ranges, vary of movement, and practical mobility. Our apply has additionally used it in lots of instances of hip or elbow dysplasia, with wonderful ends in very younger canines with extreme dysplasia. 

One instance is Tugboat, a chocolate Lab who was debilitated by elbow dysplasia when he was simply 4 months outdated. His proprietor tried every little thing, together with expensive surgical procedure, ache meds, remedy, and many others. 

Searching for different choices she determined to strive SC remedy. Following therapy, Tugboat is a distinct canine! He might hardly tolerate strolling earlier than, however now walks over an hour a day and performs on the seaside. He is available in for repeat remedies each six months or so, when he begins displaying indicators of ache and decreased mobility, and shortly returns to his regular actions. 

MSCs are additionally used to deal with broken tendons and ligaments. SC remedy is useful for partial tears, however not if the ligament is totally ruptured; there’s merely not sufficient materials to bridge a whole tear. At the clinic the place I work, we’ve got used SCs to deal with degenerative myelopathy with good outcomes. There have been a variety of small scale (n=10 or much less most often) research that discovered SC remedy improved the situation of canines with arthritis, dysplasia, intervertebral disc illness, perianal fistulas, inflammatory bowel illness, and keratoconjunctivitis sicca.3 

Some canines present enchancment very early after therapy; others take longer, and the diploma of enchancment varies. However, says Dr. Hagler, “I’ve never seen a dog that didn’t have some improvement.”

Overall, the literature3 concurs that SC remedy is efficient, although many research or studies are anecdotal, primarily based on practitioners’ knowledge and expertise; few medical trials have but been accomplished, although the businesses whose know-how is used to extract the SCs have research within the works.


The thrilling potentialities for future instructions of stem cell remedy primarily concern the supply of cells used to deal with sufferers. Currently the canine being handled should be the supply of the cells used for therapy – in any other case the therapy could be legally thought-about a drug and should first acquire approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Having a stem cell “bank” could be an important assist in the instances of canines who lack sufficient fats to reap or canines who’re too frail to bear common anesthesia for surgical fats harvesting. Just as canines could be common recipients of blood, they will additionally safely obtain stem cells that got here from one other canine. One research even discovered that MSCs could be extracted from human adipose tissue and transplanted into canines.4 (Anyone have some fats you’d wish to donate?) 

Transplantation of MSCs from one other animal could be a recreation changer. There are instances the place the canine with banked cells doesn’t want them anymore, both as a result of they’ve stopped doing remedy or as a result of they’re deceased. It could be perfect if the canine’s proprietor might make the banked cells out there to different canines. Currently this isn’t authorized.  

It’s attainable to develop MSCs (however not supporting cells) in a lab to extend their numbers, lowering the necessity to harvest fats greater than as soon as; one firm does that now. 

Getting Started with Stem Cells

You could also be pondering that this appears like one thing that will assist your canine. Here are the subsequent steps. 

The first is to discover a veterinarian who gives SC remedy. All veterinarians who present this remedy work with one in all two corporations that present the tools, reagents, processing, and storage of cells: VetStem Biopharma and MediVet Biologics. The particulars of how providers are provided rely to a point on the corporate with which the vet’s workplace works.

VetStem has been doing SC remedy for animals for the longest time. VetStem at present cultures the animal’s MSCs, whereas MediVet doesn’t, though they’re working in that route. VetStem does all of the processing at their very own facility. 

MediVet gives coaching, tools, and reagents to vet hospitals that select to course of cells in-house. Not all hospitals working with MediVet select to do that, so in these instances, MediVet does the processing. The great thing about doing the processing onsite is that the fats harvest and preliminary remedy could be carried out in the identical day. If you must journey a distance to a vet for SC remedy, it actually isn’t perfect to must make a number of journeys inside a number of days of one another for the preliminary remedy.  

PRP may also be carried out onsite. VetStem doesn’t incorporate PRP into their SC remedy. 

Both corporations retailer SCs for future use and may financial institution cells even earlier than therapy is required. If your canine is present process anesthesia for an additional process, like a spay or neuter, your veterinarian can harvest fats at the moment and ship it to the corporate, to allow them to extract and freeze the cells for any future use your canine might have. If you could have the foresight (and funds) to do that, it might get rid of the necessity to put your canine by fat-harvesting surgical procedure later, when he could also be much less capable of tolerate common anesthesia. When I’m able to have my canine neutered I’ll probably do that.

Depending on the place you’re positioned the selection of which firm to make the most of for the SC processing could also be narrowed down for you just by the vets who supply SC remedy in your space. Check together with your veterinarian. You may test the VetStem and MediVet web sites; they will put in you in touch with one in all their companion veterinarians close to you.


There are some instances the place SC remedy is contraindicated. Because of the proliferative and immune-modulating results of SCs, remedy shouldn’t be carried out for canines who’re recognized to have or suspected of getting most cancers. Neither ought to canines who’ve an lively an infection obtain remedy. 

SC remedy can also not be an possibility for canines who’re missing ample fats (till there’s a stem cell financial institution for canines!) or canines who’re too frail to resist common anesthesia.

Stem cell remedy just isn’t cheap; the associated fee for the preliminary therapy, together with adipose harvest, is within the neighborhood of $2,500. Follow-up remedies can run $500 to $1,000. These numbers will range from vet to vet. The excellent news is that many pet insurance policy now cowl SC remedy. Even with out insurance coverage it’s considerably more cost effective and fewer invasive than extra drastic measures like joint substitute.

SC remedy just isn’t a panacea and getting the best profit requires primary however generally ignored actions. It’s essential to assist the well being of the entire canine: Keep his nails trimmed so that they don’t intervene with strolling. Feed a high quality weight-reduction plan that helps total well being. Take precautions to stop an infection following surgical procedure. Keep up with follow-up remedies in a well timed method to attenuate the quantity of ache or dysfunction the canine experiences. Supporting the canine’s total well being and offering him with high quality care is crucial in getting essentially the most out of therapy. 

Joanne Osburn is the stem cell technician at Mt. Diablo Veterinary Medical Center in Lafayette, CA. After working for 9 years as a biology tech at a authorities laboratory, she is delighted to be working within the veterinary discipline the place she might help enhance the lives of pets. She lives within the San Francisco Bay space together with her husband Paul and tremendous foolish canine Guster.


1 Fortier LA, Travis AJ. “Stem cells in veterinary medicine.” Stem Cell Research & Therapy 2011; 2:9.

2 Markoski MM. “Advances in the use of stem cells in veterinary medicine: From basic research to clinical practice.” Scientifica 2016; 2016: 4516920.

3 Hoffman AM, Dow SW. “Concise review: Stem cell trials using companion animal disease models.” Stem Cells 2016; 34: 1709-1729.

4 Lee SH, Setyawan EMN, Choi YB, et al. “Clinical assessment after human adipose stem cell transplantation into dogs.” J Vet Sci 2018; 19(3): 452-461.

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