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Help for Achy, Breaky Canine Joints

If you could relieve severe arthritis pain or help repair bone fractures and tendon and ligament injuries in your dog and perhaps avoid a potential need for euthanasia for much less than the cost of a hip replacement, would you do it?

A new process using your dog’s own fat tissue to isolate stem cells can repair, regenerate, and reduce inflammation to joints, tendons and ligaments. In a 15-minute procedure, with your dog under anesthesia, your vet removes three to four tablespoons of fat from under the skin and stitches your dog up. Your vet overnights the tissue to a lab, where it is chopped into small pieces, treated with enzymes to further break it down, and spun in a centrifuge. The lab then harvests the stem cells from the sample, loads them into a syringe in a dose appropriate for your dog, sends it back to your vet, and 48 hours after the initial collection, the stem cells are injected into the injured or inflamed areas of your dog, and the healing begins. Any left-over stem cells are frozen and stored at the lab in case they are needed in the future.

The beauty of stem cells is that they can morph into whatever they need to be -- bone, cartilage, nerve, muscle, and blood vessels -- to do the job at hand.

If your dog has a genetic joint disease, like hip or elbow dysplasia, the procedure cannot reform the affected joint. However, according to the company, it can reduce scarring, relieve pain, halt further degeneration, and restore some ease of motion. Some injuries and genetic diseases require surgery to correct an underlying problem, like bone chips, displacement of joints, or tendon and ligament tears. After the surgery, the stem cell process can speed and augment recovery.

The cost of the procedure is about $2500. If supplemental vet services and treatment are needed, such as ultra-sound, x-rays, and/or surgery, the cost for the entire treatment package can be about $3500.

The use of stem cells to promote healing was first tried in dogs in 2005. So far, three clinical trials have been done on about 100 dogs. Two-thirds showed substantial improvement while the other one-third showed some improvement. Less than 0.5% had negative reactions, such as pain or swelling at the injection site. The first dogs to be treated are still doing well three years later.

The process was brought to the veterinary clinic by Bob Harman, his partners, and staff at the San Diego-based company called Vet Stem. To date, about 770 US vets have completed the 3.5-hour online training to be approved to collect the fat cells and inject the stem cells. The training is free and gives the vet three hours of continuing education credit. The training and procedure are now available in Canada too. Dr. Harman says, “Any veterinarian can do this with equipment he or she already has.”

Vet-Stem is developing new protocols to treat some types of internal medicine conditions, such as liver disease, kidney failure, and immune-mediated disorders.

For more information, go to www.vet-stem.com, and click on Small Animal Applications. Type in your zip code to find vets near you who are approved to perform the process.

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