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Stem Cell Procedures Proving Useful to Resolve Common Health Problems for Companion Animals


Golden-RetrieverMuch of today’s focus on stem cell research revolves around human stem cell applications. However, one area of stem cell research that is showing real promise uses a companion animal’s own stem cells to solve health problems they’re having. Stem cell usage for companion animals is an exciting and developing research area and it’s even being used to help avoid surgery for many animals. In this article, you will find out where stem cells come from and the procedures implemented on various common companion animals.

Stem Cell research got a bad reputation early on because of the way it was introduced. The stigma surrounding stem cell technology can be attributed to many different factors. Much of the news that was released when stem cell research was in its infancy made it sound like it relied on using cells directly from babies practically while other reports likened it to playing God. It boiled down to bad reporting but that was the information that was available so it was what people used to form their own views. Over the years better information has been released and it has cleared up a lot of the issues people have with stem cell research but many still have the biases they formed early on. One of the goals of this article is to shed light on what is commonly used for stem cells, what they can accomplish and how safe the procedures are.

Where are stem cells found?

There is a lot of stem cell research controversy nowadays, as many people believe that stems cells primarily come from embryos. These are known as embryonic stem cells. Whilst they can come from here, these are the least researched stem cell. They can also come from other areas such as placenta, umbilical cord blood and tissue and amniotic fluid. What many people don’t realize is that stem cells can be harvested from adult cells and tissue. There are many areas where this can be done such as in the bone marrow, teeth, the brain, the heart, the gut, blood, blood vessels, muscles, skin, fat tissue and in the liver. Another type of stem cell is an induced pluripotent stem cell (ips cell). These stem cells are genetically modified from either an adult or a children’s cell, in which it behaves like an embryonic cell where it has the ability to manifest itself into all adult cell types.

In short, there are many areas where stem cells can be extracted safely, without the air of negativity from people who haven’t read into the whole picture. Each adult stem cell can be used to regenerate the same kind of tissue, with some being able to differentiate into other types of cells. Adult stem cells, like embryonic cells, are then harvested in cell cultures and cell lines, before implantation into a host. The most common adult stem cells used in many areas of research are Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC) and Hematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs), which are found in the bone marrow and are primarily formed from stem cell factor (scf) interactions.

The Procedure

Regenerative stem cell procedures in animals can be used to treat a range of conditions, such as osteoarthritis, osteochondral defects, tendon repair, fractures, cerebral infarction, myocardial infarction, muscular dystrophy and autoimmune disorders. One such company is VetStem Biopharma. Regenerative stem cell procedures can be used for a wide range of household and companion animals, such as dogs, cats and horses.

Firstly, blood tests, urine test and x-rays are performed to test the suitability for anaesthetic and to check to see where the implantation area will be, respectively. The animals are then anesthetized and cells are extracted, generally from the abdomen. Many stem cell procedures extract stem cells from the adipose (fat) tissue of an animal. Fatty tissue is generally in plentiful supply in an animal, and contains 50-1000 times the number of cells found in bone marrow. The cells are then sent to a lab where usable stem cells are extracted. The extraction procedure consists of mincing, washing, digesting with collagenase and centrifuging, followed by re-suspension of the stem cell pellet. Water baths are generally used to increase the sample temperature. Unlike bone marrow stem cells, adipose derived stem cells do not require culturing, but can be polydisperse in size.

The stem cells are then sent back to the vet, mixed with platelet rich plasma and injected into the deteriorating area. The platelet-stem cell mixture can also be activated prior to injection by laser light or L.E.D technologies. The common areas are ligaments, tendons and joints, especially in dogs. The procedure is very straightforward, with minimal risk and can be undertaken in one day. In some cases, harvesting of the cells to reach a sufficient injection amount is needed. Therefore, in these cases the treatment time will be longer.

Dogs are the most commonly treated animal, and stem cell therapies are generally used to treat joint issues such as osteoarthritis. In cats, the main treatment is to help reduce the effect of chronic renal disease, in which three injections directly into the bloodstream are required. It is an effective treatment in cats as stem cells are also anti-inflammatory. For horses (both domestic and racing), the common treatment is for broken bones, specifically broken legs. Adipose cells are taken for horses older than 15, but are taken from the bone marrow in younger horses. So procedures for younger horses take much longer as the bone marrow cells need to be isolated, cultured and harvested before the procedure can take place. Stem cells are often banked and stored for any future use, should any other problems arise.

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