Stem Cell Therapy

FAQ for Pet Owners

What is Stem Cell Therapy?

Stem cell therapy is a procedure that harnesses the body’s innate regenerative and healing processes to treat diseases. The procedure at Torrey Pines Animal Hospital uses adult stem cells isolated from your pet’s fat tissue, a rich source of stem cells. Studies have shown that these stem cells can develop into many different types of cells and tissues, including cartilage and bone. They also secrete many biological factors that promote healing. In a stem cell procedure, cells are isolated from a small amount of fat and then injected at the site of injury or disease. Cells are often given intravenously as well since stem cells have the ability to home to sites of injury and inflammation. In the treatment of osteoarthritis in joints, for example, stem cells can generate new cartilage and bone plus secrete potent anti-inflammatory factors, thereby replacing lost or damaged tissues, reducing pain, and increasing mobility.

What happens to my pet when it comes in for stem cell therapy?

First, a small amount of blood is collected to make platelet-rich plasma (PRP, to be mixed with the cells). Then, under general anesthesia, a small incision is made, generally in the abdomen, and about 20 grams or 2 tablespoons of fat is harvested. The incision is then closed and your pet placed in recovery while the fat sample is processed to isolate the cells. After about 3 hours, the cells in PRP are ready for administration. The cells are injected locally (e.g., into a joint) and/or intravenously. For joint injections the patient is briefly sedated. That completes the procedure and your pet can be picked up the same day.

What is the recovery period, and how long does it take to see results?

Your veterinarian will provide guidance tailored for your pet’s condition. Some patients may experience inflammation and stiffness in injected joints for 1-3 days following injection. Often patients show increased vitality within days due to the potent anti-inflammatory effects, so your pet should be kept leash-restrained for the first 10 days to avoid strenuous activity that could cause injury or re-injury. Stem cells will continue to repair tissues over weeks to months, and it also takes time for the animal to rebuild the muscular support lost from previous inactivity.

What conditions do you treat?

The most common conditions treated are degenerative joint disease (such as osteoarthritis associated with hip and elbow dysplasia), ligament and tendon injuries, and fractures. Stem cell therapy is often used in conjunction with surgery (e.g., cruciate ligament repair) to accelerate healing and improve the bio-mechanical strength and flexibility of the repaired tissue.

Other conditions for which there is promising but limited clinical experience can be treated under “compassionate use”. Some of those conditions are: degenerative myelopathy, chronic renal disease, atopy, inflammatory bowel disease, liver diseases, and feline gingivitis. Please speak with your vet if you have questions about any of these conditions.

How long does a treatment last? What happens if my pet starts having trouble again?

With osteoarthritis, typically about 1-3 years of relief is observed after the initial treatment. Some animals never need re-treatment. Re-treatment, if needed, can be performed with a repeat procedure or by using cells that were banked from the first procedure.

Are there any animals that you don’t treat?

Yes. Animals with cancer or active infections are generally ineligible for treatment as there is some concern that treatment might worsen these conditions.

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