This fall, a veterinary pharmaceutical company published what is being promoted as a landmark study in the treatment of canine osteoarthritis (OA). VetStem Biopharma, Inc. sponsored and conducted a, “randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled clinical efficacy study of intraarticular allogeneic adipose stem cells for the treatment of dogs with OA.” What does this mean to the average dog owner? Well, put simply, there is a new and effective non-drug based treatment for dogs suffering from the pain and discomfort of osteoarthritis.
What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a condition that results in the loss of the cartilage that lines the joints. OA can be caused by general aging of the joints, abnormal wear – prevalent in active agility, or working dogs – trauma or even a genetic predisposition. Obesity is another factor that can lead to increased stress on the joints. Symptoms of OA included a decrease in activity, occasional lameness and/or a stiff gait that may worsen with exercise. A veterinarian will diagnose OA through a complete medical history, physical exam and even radiographs of the joints. Treatment of OA ranges from conservative joint supplements and weight loss to moderately aggressive treatments like lifelong use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), weekly physical therapy and even extreme measures (for the most severe cases) of joint removal or replacement.
The most common problem with these treatments is lack of owner compliance. Daily medications for our pets sometimes gets overlooked. NSAIDs can cause side effects (such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite) and require special bloodwork, vet visits and monitoring to prevent long term side effects like kidney and liver damage and even gastrointestinal ulcers. Weekly therapy fees, medications, and supplements can add up and eventually become cost prohibitive.
Why is This Study Revolutionary?
It is the largest, peer-reviewed study to use a blinded placebo method for the use of stem cells—which are derived from fat cells—to treat canine osteoarthritis while also measuring safety methods. Forty-seven dogs were treated with stem cells and 46 were treated with a saline (placebo). The stem cells used were harvested from the fat tissue of a single canine donor, and after treatment and manipulation, injected directly into the affected joint. Treating veterinarians and owners had no idea who was in the treated group and who was in the placebo group (randomized and blinded). Dogs had either the saline or stem cells injected into the affect joint(s) and were monitored over a 60-day period. Owners and treating veterinarians performed pre-treatment assessments of the dog’s mobility and comfort as well as evaluations during and after the 60-day study.
Based on the veterinarians and owners’ assessment, the authors of the study reported that, overall, there was a marked improvement in comfort and decrease of pain noticed by vets and owners. A marked placebo effect was noted (which is present in most, if not all, placebo studies), but not enough to negate the results.
After reading the entire study, I could find places for methodological improvement, but largely, this study highlights the continued medical advancements for canine health. Stem-cell therapy is by no means new to the veterinary community, it has been used for several years in the equine industry, but is now becoming more advanced and cost-effective in small animal health.
As more of these studies are published, I believe that veterinarians will start making stem-cell therapy a normal suggestion as a part of their treatment plans for OA. Technological advancements will begin to make treatment accessible nationwide, and the upfront cost of treatment will be less than the lifetime use of prescription medications. This single, or even yearly (yet to be determined), treatment may drastically improve the health and wellbeing of our canine and feline companions. Stem-cell therapy could decrease the amount of potentially harmful side-effects from traditional OA medications, and lead to additional advancements in human medicine.
For more information, or to see if stem-cell treatment is appropriate for your pet, please consult with your pet’s veterinarian.