Stem cell therapies that could one day lead to a cure for diabetes percolate in the hobbled back legs of an 11-year-old yellow Labrador named Daisy Mae Doodle.
Because the purebred with the graying muzzle could no longer jump on a bed, Susan Holoff paid about $3,500 for a procedure that may one day be tucked into a revolution changing treatment for everything from heart problems to herniated disks.
Today, stem cell treatments are more available to pets than to people.
A Westlake Village veterinarian used a scalpel to slice away fatty tissue from Daisy Mae’s abdomen and sent it in a plastic tube to a Poway business. A pellet of adult stem cells was extracted in a process involving a high-speed centrifuge. They were injected directly into Daisy Mae’s limbs to ease her arthritis.
“She’s like a different dog,” Holoff said. “There’s no question I consider the surgery successful. She didn’t want to be near anything. Now she’s all over me.”
Though human research of stem cell uses ranges from diabetes to eye conditions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only products for humans related to blood-forming stem cells long used in treatment of leukemia and other cancers.
By comparison, animal treatment involving stem cells is mostly unregulated and races forward. Supporters said the therapy can bring subtle improvements, as well as sometimes dramatic changes that can help turn an arthritic retriever into a pup. Other observers suggest treatments are being offered at top-dollar prices to desperate pet owners before the effectiveness has been fully proved.
“It’s hard to get past the placebo effect,” said Dr. Ken Bruecker, a veterinarian surgeon in Ventura who has performed stem cell procedures but worries that pet owners are blinded by their investment. “If you spend $3,500 on a procedure, you want it to work.”
The promise of stem cells from fat tissues comes in that they are blank building blocks that can become bone, cartilage, tendons or fatty tissue. Research is aimed at figuring out how the cells can be manipulated into cavalries of healthy cells that replace malformed ones.
“Regenerative medicine truly offers the potential for a cure,” said Dr. Sean Owens, a veterinary stem cell researcher at UC Davis. “What if we could inject stem cells into a pancreas? Instead of using insulin to treat diabetes as a chronic disease, what if we were able to use stem cells to not only treat your diabetes but cure you?”
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