The Science Behind Stem Cell Therapy For Dogs
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are present in all mammals; they are there to help heal and rebuild tissues when the body becomes damaged. Stem cells are the undifferentiated cells, meaning they have the ability to become almost any other cell type in the body.
They lie dormant in capillary beds and other tissues waiting for chemical signals that occur during times of inflammation and damage. When they sense these biochemicals, the stem cells migrate to the are of inflammation and start secreting various biochemicals based on the damage that has occurred.
These biochemicals help reduce inflammation and signal to the surrounding cells to begin the cellular process of healing. In essence, stem cells are the bodies natural way of controlling inflammation and the healing process.
Think of them as the general contractors of the body.
They are responsible for providing instructions to the surrounding cells so they know how to heal the body.
Stem cells have been shown to:
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Work?
Stem cell therapy takes into consideration the bodies natural healing process and utilizes stem cells to fight inflammation and augment the healing response. By understanding the biology of inflammation and tissue damage, you can understand how we can use stem cells to create a very unique type of therapy compared to conventional medications.
When tissues become damaged, the damaged cells begin to leak many different biochemicals into the surrounding areas.
These biochemicals are responsible for inflammation; the most noticeable signs of which is redness, swelling, and subsequent pain. The biochemicals also start leaching into the bloodstream basically creating a chemical trail to the source of the inflammation.
As these drifting biochemicals pass the bodies natural stem cells that reside just outside the capillary beds, the stem cells become active and actually migrate from outside the capillaries to inside the bloodstream.
Once here they are able to migrate to the source of the biochemicals. Once they have found the source, the stem cells anchor themselves to the damaged tissues, where they set up shop and begin secreting various natural chemicals that start decreasing inflammation and direct other cells in how they should behave to help clean up the damage and start healing.
With stem cell therapy, we are able to take a high number of stem cells and place them in the areas of inflammation so they can augment the bodies natural healing process and speed up healing.
For the ease of understanding, we are in essence dropping in millions of contractors where normally there may only be a few hundred at work. This creates massive collaboration and the bodies natural anti-inflammation pathway is expedited and enhanced; this in turn decreases pain and can lead to better healing.
The Basics of Stem Cell Therapy
Therapeutic stem cells can be derived from the same animal (autologous), a different individual of the same species (allogeneic), or an animal of a different species (xenogeneic).
Adult stem cells can be further categorized as either hemopoietic (derived from cord or peripheral blood) or mesenchymal (isolated from the mesoderm layer of different tissues, such as bone marrow, fat, dental pulp, tendons, and skeletal muscle).
In autologous stem cell therapy, your pet is placed under anesthesia and an aspiration of bone marrow cells from the shin or thigh bone is taken, or some fat is harvested from your pet. These samples are either sent to an outside lab where stem cells can be isolated and cultured, or some clinics will use in house laboratory equipment to isolate the cells themselves.
Your pet is then typically placed under anesthesia again at another point in time once the cells are ready for implantation and the cells are infused into the damaged area where they can begin fighting inflammation and augment the healing response.
Allogeneic stem cell therapy is not performed much in veterinary medicine. Harvesting large volumes of stem cells from small animals and making them available from widespread therapy is expensive and labor intensive.
In xenogeneic stem cell therapy, stem cells from one species – in our case human umbilical stem cells – are placed in another species (i.e. dogs, horses, or primates). Because humans are mammals, our genetic sequencing remains 98-99% the same with other mammals (including dogs); this is a marvelous example of the human animal bond.
Since so many of our proteins between mammalian species have the same sequence, this means they can have a similar effect in multiple species. Consider insulin; it is a protein that comes from a pig source but can have a blood sugar lowering effect in many different species. When we place human umbilical stem cells inside of a dog, horse, or primate, the stem cells will migrate to areas of inflammation just as native stem cells would.
The stem cells begin releasing biochemicals in response to the inflammation just as they would in their own species and since these biochemicals are almost identical in protein makeup, they have a similar effect in the infused species. Some of these biochemicals fight inflammation and pain, some recruit the native dormant stem cells of the surrounding areas making them active, and some cause the native cells to begin reproducing and repairing damage .
How Stem Cell Therapy Relates to Modern Therapy
Most drugs used in veterinary medicine are composed of a single peptide or molecule (thus the term monotherapy). Because of this, they typically only interact at one location or act on a single step of a biological process. This can cause unwanted side effects and creates a more narrow margin of safety.
Conventional drugs also cannot self regulate; the level of active molecules are dictated by the breakdown and dosage frequency and the prescribing veterinarian targets a mean (middle of the road) level. At some points in the day the active molecule may be in too little or too high of concentrations, and this can have adverse effects on the body over the long term.
A great example of this whole problem with conventional pharmaceuticals are steroids. When given, they can decrease inflammation but they also decrease other aspects of the immune system by inadvertently blocking other points in the biochemical pathways, increase the chance of infection when dosages are too high, and increase the chances of kidney and endocrine dysfunction (the development of type-II diabetes).
This is in part why so many animals and humans when taking steroids to treat a specific condition will also have many different side effects while on the medication such as an increase in thirst, hunger, urination, and irritability.
On the other hand, stem cells are living cells capable of producing a multitude of biochemicals depending on the situation – they are not restricted to monotherapy action like most conventional drugs.
Instead, they are dynamic and have the ability to adjust levels of biochemicals in response to the need of the surrounding tissues (thus creating a natural biological feedback loop), or can shift production to other mediators as needed. This allows for a more balanced, natural, and therapeutic control of inflammation and creates a more ideal healing environment for damaged tissues.
In addition to the more finite control over the inflammatory process, stem cells can also secrete components called extra-cellular matrix components to repair structural damage, prevent cell death, and signal for damaged cell replacement; this is virtually unseen with conventional drug therapy(1).
(1) The Premier Stem Cell Institute