Stem-Cell Therapy Provides Alternative Treatment For Some Canine Diseases

Regenerative medicine, the process of replacing or regenerating cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function, has taken hold in human medicine. Today, researchers are applying this concept to helping dogs. 

Stem cell therapy, using cells that have the ability to rapidly multiply and take on the function of specialized cells by assimilating various functions, is being used to treat dogs for orthopedic injuries as well as diseases of the liver, bone marrow, blood and heart. In the future, stem cells may even be used to treat dogs with diabetes and other conditions common in Yorkshire Terriers, including patellar luxation, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease and collapsing trachea. 

Yorkshire Terrier enthusiast and veterinarian Orman L. Synder II of Topeka, Kan., believes wholeheartedly in the potential of stem cells in veterinary medicine. At his University Bird and Small Animal Clinic, he is using stem-cell therapy in treating dogs for osteoarthritis as well as some soft-tissue injuries and CCL disease. 

“Stem cells help to regenerate healthy, functioning tissue,” he says. “As a clinician, I am excited about the possibilities. I think the biggest effect in the future for the Yorkie community will be in treating autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes.” 

Generating New Cells to Restore Health

Veterinarians usually use stromal, or adult, stem cells taken from adipose, or fat, tissue for stem-cell therapy. Before treatment begins, dogs are evaluated to determine their function level. In order to benefit dogs, the therapy must generate new cells to do the work of damaged ones. 

While some stem-cell therapy research involves using embryonic stem cells, this type of stem cell is associated with some risks. For example, the cells could continue to divide and develop into cancer. Stromal cells divide a limited number of times and the risk of uncontrolled growth is much lower. 

“As opposed to traditional treatment of osteoarthritis with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, I am able to inject stem cells harvested from a patient’s own fat deposits to build new cartilage,” says Synder, who was the first president of the Yorkshire Terrier Club of America Foundation. “Stem cells have proved effective in my practice in repairing torn menisci, the small, C-shaped pieces of cartilage that cushion the stifle joint.” 

Snyder also reports success treating a 9-year-old male Pit Bull mix, named “Sherman,” who suffered a second CCL rupture but was not a candidate for surgery. “Medications were no longer keeping Sherman comfortable,” he says. “He could no longer get up on the sofa or stand to relieve himself.” 

Following the stem-cell procedure, Snyder suggested that Sherman’s owner, Bruce Zimmerman of Topeka, Kan., keep a log tracking his dog’s pain levels, activities and anything else notable after the treatment. In three days, Sherman’s pain had lessened enough to stop pain medications. After a week, Sherman was more himself. 

A milestone in the recovery process came on the 15th day, when Sherman was able to stand on his injured leg to relieve himself. Over the next several weeks, Sherman continued to improve. He eventually was able to get on the sofa and resumed going up and down stairs, which he had not done since the first injury. After three months, Sherman jumped 32 inches to Zimmerman’s bed. 

Zimmerman could not believe his 75-pound dog regained the ability to do so many things. “Although Sherman looks like an old dog — narrow in the back and gray — he still has a spring in his step,” he says. “I am thankful for what stem cells have done for us.” 

Future of Regenerative Medicine

Although stem-cell therapy has been used in veterinary medicine at veterinary schools and research institutes for nearly 10 years, the technology has just been available to veterinary clinicians for about three years, where it mostly is used to treat orthopedic conditions, such as CCL injuries and torn menisci. 

Reflecting the growing applications of regenerative medicine, veterinary schools across the country have begun specialty departments that focus on researching treatments and innovative procedures. Additionally, the North American Veterinary Regenerative Medicine Association was founded in 2010 to help advance the science of stem-cell therapy and other regenerative medicine techniques. 

“Regenerative medicine is an important option for clinical veterinarians like myself,” Snyder says. “We are able to effectively treat dogs so they no longer suffer. It’s an exciting time to be involved in treating dogs with stem cells.”  

Purina appreciates the support of the Yorkshire Terrier Club of America and particularly Mary Trimble, president of the YTCA Foundation, in helping to identify topics for the Purina Pro Club Yorkshire Terrier Update newsletter.