Stem cell therapy
Stem cell therapy is one facet of veterinary medicine that has been pioneered ahead of human medicine. Dr. Nicole Buote, chief of surgery at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, uses stem cells harvested from fat to help pets that suffer from arthritis, torn tendons and degenerative spinal problems. She harvests patients’ belly fat laparoscopically from a 2 centimeter incision, then sends the tissue off to VetStem, a company in San Diego, where it is processed with enzymes that separate fat cells from stem cells. VetStem banks some of the stem cells and sends the rest back to Buote. She can either inject the stem cells into a patient’s joint or administer them through an IV, where they travel through the bloodstream and home in on areas of inflammation. They work both mechanically and chemically, by rebuilding new tissue in damaged areas as well as shutting down chemical processes that cause damage. Though stem cell therapy in humans has recently come under the scrutiny of the FDA, several studies have shown that stem cells extracted from fat tissue are effective in relieving arthritis and torn tendons in dogs and horses.
“This is not magic — it’s not going to make a 10-year-old dog like a 1-year-old dog. But stem cells can stop inflammation in joints and can start to heal some of the tissues,” Buote says. The initial harvesting and treatment cost is $2,500, with subsequent injections every three to six months, at about $200 per treatment. (The stem cell banking fee is free the first year, then $150 annually.)