Presenters voice optimism for the future of veterinary stem cell therapy at AVMA convention

Reactions to the concept of stem cell therapy from the media and the general public range from high hopes to fear of the unknown, but at the 2014 AVMA Annual Convention, presenters voiced optimism for the potential benefits of using stem cells in veterinary settings.

NEWStat sat in on presentations about the promising science that is slowly moving from research laboratories to use in veterinary practices. Here are some highlights from those presentations.

Researchers testing stem cells on many indications

The future of stem cell research is bright, according to Dori Borjesson, DVM, Ph.D., DACVP. The UC Davis professor of pathology, microbiology, and immunology has been working with stem cells for years and said her research has led her to believe that they hold potent anti-inflammatory qualities and that animals tend to feel better after treatment with stem cells.

During her presentation titled "Stem Cell Therapy: Fact or Fiction," Borjesson, along with fellow presenter John Peroni, DVM, MS, DACVS, associate professor of large animal surgery at the University of Georgia, explained the science behind stem cells and displayed numerous images showing stem cells migrating to the site of injured tissue or bone and having an apparent therapeutic effect. 

The duo highlighted several canine clinical trials that have either begun or are scheduled to begin, including:

  • Acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or dry eye
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Orthopedic disorders such as osteoarthritis and osteochondritis dissecans

And for cats, some of the many clinical trials using stem cell therapy include:

  • Chronic renal failure
  • Renal transplantation
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Chronic gingivostomatitis

Although Borjesson said some clinical studies have shown remarkable results for indications such as KCS in dogs and chronic renal failure in cats, she said there is still much to learn about stem cells. She and Peroni discussed questions currently being pondered by researchers, including:

  • How and when to administer stem cells for best results
  • Which stem cell sources work best for different indications
  • Whether off-the-shelf stem cell products can eventually compete with autologous stem cell products in terms of efficacy and safety
  • How to avoid side effects such as metaplasia (although stem cells have generally had a strong safety profile)
  • Best practices for shipping stem cell products 

Putting stem cells to use in animal hospitals

Michelle D. Krasicki-Aune, BS, CVT, MBA, discussed stem cells in a talk titled “Stem cell therapy in canines, felines and equines: Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask.”

Krasicki-Aune spoke enthusiastically about stem cells, covering both her reviews of stem cell clinical studies and her own experiences working with a clinic that offers stem cell treatments. She supplemented her presentation with before-and-after videos of dogs that had received stem cell treatments and experienced dramatic improvements from conditions such as osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia.

Among her findings from reviewing stem cell clinical studies:

  • One study reported 0 percent systemic reaction and 0.1 percent localized reaction from stem cell treatment - lower than vaccines, she said.
  • Studies have shown that stem cell therapy can increase the number of patients that are able to stop using NSAIDs after treatment.
  • Some evidence suggests that stem cells can potentially repair scar tissue, although the hope is to prevent it.

Krasicki-Aune acknowledged that stem cell therapy "is not yet widely understood in the media or public," but she said she would use stem cell therapy on her own pets because she has seen enough results firsthand to convince her that it could have a beneficial effect.

“I’ve seen it work great in some animals, not so well in others - just like other drugs,” she said.

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