What would you do if you knew a controversial treatment could use your cat’s own body to heal itself? Would you take on the risk and expense, or would you opt for more traditional methods?
Some cat owners have taken the former road with the development of stem cell therapy. This newly popular technique puts aside traditional surgery and medication in favor of small injections of your pet’s own cells. Used to treat conditions such as arthritis and ligament injuries, stem cell treatment (also known as regenerative medicine) is filled with potential as well as contention.
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work?
Regenerative medicine works around the principle that the bodies of organisms produce cells called stem cells. These cells are able to differentiate, or mature into a wide variety of other body cells depending on which tissues surround them. A stem cell can develop into muscle, nerves, bone, and other body tissues.
How is Stem Cell Therapy Used?
When a cat suffers from an injury, the stem cells surrounding the injury differentiate and begin healing the body. For example, stem cells might mature into ligament cells to repair an injury from running.
Living things contain two types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells, which are present in early-stage embryos and develop into organisms; and adult stem cells, which are present in the tissues of mature organisms. Adult stem cells do not harm the organism when removed and do not prevent further development in any way. It is these cells which are used in regenerative veterinary medicine.
What’s Involved in a Stem Cell Treatment?
During stem cell treatment, a trained veterinarian uses a small syringe to remove fatty tissue from an animal’s abdomen or back. This tissue is then sent to a lab, where it is centrifuged (or spun) to isolate and extract the stem cells. The cells are returned and then injected back into the animal’s body in the affected area. As the cells interact with damaged tissue, they mature into healthy cells which can repair damage or injury.
Because it requires no extensive surgery, regenerative therapy is accompanied by a much shorter recovery period and less pain for the animal. Some owners report seeing improvement in their pet’s condition less than 36 hours after treatment. Surplus stem cells can be frozen for future injections, eliminating the need for repeat extractions. Veterinary stem cell treatment has been approved by the FDA for orthopedic problems in tendons and ligaments, as well as bone fractures and arthritis.
The ease and comfort of regenerative medicine doesn’t come cheaply, however. A single cycle of treatment can cost between $2000 and $4000, and requires a knowledgeable veterinarian to perform the procedure. (Many veterinarians consider regenerative medicine to be an offshoot of alternative medicine, limiting the number of doctors certified to practice it.) According to Vet-Stem, the California-based leader in veterinary stem cell therapy, around 20% of owners see no improvement in their pet after treatment. That other 80%, however, have seen their beloved pets heal with a minimum of trauma and pain in exchange for taking a chance.
In just a few years, stem cell therapy has gone from a hot topic on news channels to an eagerly embraced therapy for canine illness. With the current trend in treatment comes the hope that some day soon a similar course of therapy will be approved for use in humans. Thousands of animals are living a happier and healthier life due to regenerative medicine, and the full possibilities of the technology still remain to be seen.