THE BLOG
07/09/2014 12:11 am ET | Updated Sep 07, 2014

Stem Cell Therapy Changed The Way I Practice Veterinary Medicine

As a veterinarian in Hawaii, stem cell therapy has changed the way I practice medicine.

Most people have heard of bone marrow or cord-derived stem cells, but another form of stem cell therapy, called "adipose derived," or stem cells from fat (also known as adipose), is gaining momentum in the medical profession.

This new method of obtaining and purifying stem cells from fat is minimally invasive and has shown phenomenal results for treating a variety of conditions.

For people in the United States, most adipose-derived stem cell procedures are performed in universities or in research trials. Treating companion animals, on the other hand, has become possible in local veterinary hospitals around the country.

Veterinary patients are being treated most frequently for osteoarthritis. Other conditions stem cell therapy is used for are partial ligament tears, immune-mediated problems, kidney disease, and irritable bowel disease to name a few. Stem cells are the body's repair cells capable of reversing damage.

Stem cells have the ability to repair and regenerate tissue in the body that has been damaged. The stem cells are extracted from the patient through a straightforward surgery. Fat is harvested most commonly from behind the shoulder blade. A vigorous purification process follows that extracts the stem cells from the tissue and then activates them. The injections are given the same day intravenously or into the affected joints.

Until this surgery was available, I treated most of my patients for severe arthritis with a combination of medications and acupuncture. Several pain medications can have adverse effects on other organs in the body when used for years on end, as well as become less effective over time.

Max, a 12-year-old Labrador retriever, became my patient about a year ago. Max had severe osteoarthritis that, over time, became so severe that it kept him from getting around on his own. After exhausting all their options trying multiple medications, Max's family came to me debating on whether or not they should put him to sleep. They wanted to know if stem cell therapy might help.

As I examined Max, he wagged his tail but could not stand without help. I performed various neurological tests, as well as range of motion of his joints, and evaluated his radiographs before sharing my results with his anxious family. The truth is, Max's condition was serious. His elbows, hips and knees all had severe arthritis; however, there were no structural or neurological defects present. This made him a good candidate for adipose-derived therapy and gave his family hope that they would have more time together.

One month after Max's stem cell therapy, I had him come back for a recheck. I would not have recognized him if his parents had not been there. Max greeted me at the door, tail wagging and face smiling. He still had healing ahead of him, and was limping on his front legs. But we went outside and I watched this happy dog walk slowly on his own. After further evaluation, we planned another check-up, and I looked forward to seeing his progress.

Max has been one of more than 60 patients I have treated. I continue to see wonderful results and am thankful for the new technology and medicine that has allowed me to help so many patients. I look forward to the future of stem cell therapy and the new developments we are likely to see.