Stem cell therapy is a new and emerging field that enhances our traditional treatment of previously difficult to manage conditions, including osteoarthritis and tendon injury.
Stem cells are divided into two types, embryonic and adult stem cells. Of the adult stem cells, there are haematopoietic stem cells that can build blood and blood products, mesenchymal stem cells that can build muscle, bone, ligaments, tendons, cartilage and fat and neural stem cells that build nerve tissues. The stem cells that we use are mesenchymal stem cells derived from fat. The tissue is harvested from a donor at the time of routine desexing procedures. The stem cells are cultured and prepared and stored in liquid nitrogen prior to use. Stem cells are carefully thawed to room temperature before being transplanted into the patient.
Stem cells can work in two different ways. Firstly, they can act to regenerate damaged or lost tissue, by changing into new cell types, such as cartilage or bone. Or they can secrete molecules to tell other cells in the joint how to act to repair tissue within the joint.
Stem cells can downregulate the inflammatory cascade, present in metabolic illness and overactive inflammatory responses which cause the pain of arthritis.
Stem cells are injected into the affected area (joint or tendon) using a sterile technique. The transplanted cells embed in the lining of the joint or tendon and secrete molecules to activate neighbouring or target cells. These cells in turn, improve blood flow, recruit other cells for repair of injury, prevent cell death, stimulate regeneration, improve function of cells and have potent, long lasting anti-inflammatory effects.
The procedure itself is short, but requires a general anaesthetic in most cases. A short hospital stay for stem cell therapy can provide years of pain management for arthritis, or repair a condition to restore normal function.
When paired with physiotherapy exercises, stem cell therapy can vastly improve the quality of life for old, arthritic pets.