Stem cells are biological cells that are undifferentiated and capable of differentiating into more specialized cells that are specific to tissues and organ systems. There are two types of stem cells present in mammals. Embryonic stem cells are present in the inner mass of cells of the developing embryo. These are the most versatile stem cells that can differentiate into virtually any cell type, as these cells are the basis for the all of the body’s specialized tissues and systems. Adult stem cells are present in various tissues of the body and are part of the repair system of the body. Adult stem cells are particularly rich in certain tissues types, such as adipose (body fat) tissue and bone marrow (the soft inner core of bone). Adult stem cells are found most robustly in younger animals versus older animals, explaining in part the increased healing capacity of young animals in comparison to older animals.
Given the stem cell’s unique ability to differentiate into other body cells, stem cell therapy is increasingly becoming a cutting edge method to treat any manner of diseases in dogs and cats. Since veterinarians are simply utilizing the innate regenerative properties of stem cells to treat diseased or damaged tissues, these treatments carry no risk of unwanted side effects or toxicity. Below is a list of diseases where stem cell therapy is currently being implemented, with more practical uses being added all of the time:
– Inflammatory bowel disease
– Kidney failure
– Liver disease
– Heart disease
– Autoimmune disease
– Systemic infection
As previously stated, stem cells are richest in adipose tissue and bone marrow, and found in the highest numbers young animals. Thus, it is best to collect cells for stem cell replication and banking from the tissues of animals when they are still young and healthy. An ideal time to do this is when a puppy or kitten undergoes a spay or neuter procedure, as the pet will already be under anesthesia for the procedure. During a spay, fat that is rich in stem cells can be collected from an area just deep to the abdominal incision line of the spay procedure, called the falciform ligament. Although a neuter procedure for a male does not require an abdominal incision, to harvest falciform fat would only require a tiny abdominal incision one inch long.
Once collected, the tissue sample is sent to one of a growing number of companies that will bank the tissue for you. Cell culturing enables a life time supply of stem cells to treat your pet indefinitely, all from that one original fat sample. Thus, from one minimally invasive harvesting procedure, your pet’s quality of life and longevity can be greatly increased later in life.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.