Stem cell therapy goes to the dogs

Age is cruel to dogs. Especially big dogs.

So when Arthur Latno of San Rafael noticed his 9-year-old white German shepherd Emma close to immobile and whimpering in pain due to arthritis, he knew he had to do something beyond traditional medicine.

Emma is now undergoing new, innovative treatment using her own stem cells to help with the pain.

Latno told the IJ Emma is doing better and he is able to flex her joints with more ease, without painful cries of protest.

Kristina Hansson, a veterinarian with San Rafael’s Northbay Animal Hospital, performed Emma’s stem cell procedure. She injected the canine’s own stem cells into 10 of her joints three months ago.

The treatment cost $2,000 and was developed by Kentucky company MediVet America. Its effectiveness remains to be consistently proven.

Around 8 million American dogs suffer from joint-related problems as they age. Other treatments include acupuncture and pills, none of which helped Emma longterm, prompting Latno to seek other means.

Despite Emma’s apparent relief, some vets advise being wary of the treatment and not using it as an end-all solution as not enough research has been conducted to prove its worth.

Still, some vets like John Peroni, associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, say that the future of the treatment is bright:

“This (the stem cell procedure) is incredibly promising, but on the other hand there is a lot of homework that needs to be done to determine whether these are valid therapeutic measures.”

Unlike human stem cell treatments, this one is far less controversial as it involves the animal’s own stem cells.

The animal is put under anesthesia and 10 grams of fat is removed from behind the shoulder blade, said Hansson. The fat is then spun in a centrifuge and the stem cells are isolated and the animal’s plasma is mixed in. The cells are activated by an LED light and injected into the animal’s joints.

The treatment, however, does not cure arthritis. The longest its effects last is about six months.

In a visit to Northbay Animal Hospital this week, Emma was a lot happier — or, as happy as she could be at a vet’s office. She showed no signs of limping and did not whine in pain.

Latno is pleased with her progress:

“There’s been a real improvement.”