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Pets benefit from new stem cell treatment

For dog and cat lovers whose animals are suffering from arthritis, hip dysplasia, ligament and cartilage injuries or other degenerative diseases, an alternative to the traditional approach of using expensive medications to manage pain and reduce inflammation is gaining popularity: stem cells.

Dr. Brian Keller (DVM) has been pioneering the new treatment locally at Countryside Veterinary Clinic here in New Richmond since last May.

"Hips, elbows and knees are the three most common places where you are going to see this new therapy being applied.

It's about offering owners an alternative when it comes to the quality of life for their animals. What it can do is amazing," said Keller.

Although Keller was aware of pet stem cell therapy, it was not until he attended an educational seminar last March that he became intrigued enough to enroll in the online training and take an exam to become certified in its application. He explained that while he is responsible for harvesting the fat from which the stem cells are secured and injecting the serum containing the activated cells back into the affected joint or ligament, the more technical work of processing the stem cells from the fat is accomplished by two technicians in the office trained by MediVet.

"Most of the training is on the technician side of the procedure. They are trained on the processing of the stem cells, the most important part of this process," said Keller.

There are several companies competing in the delivery of the new stem cell therapy, but Keller chose MediVet because they enabled him to purchase the technology which allows him to process the stem cells on site at his practice, saving time and money on behalf of clients.

Countryside invested roughly $17,000 to install the new equipment in their office, which included the state-of-art machinery required to separate the stem cells from the fat, 4 - 20 gram and 4 - 40 gram procedure kits and

20 PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) kits.

Since purchasing the equipment, certifying Dr. Keller and training two staff technicians, Countryside has employed stem cell therapy in five separate canine cases all since the beginning of 2016.

To begin, the procedure requires Dr. Keller to extract a small amount of fatty tissue from one of two locations, the dog's abdomen or from behind the shoulders. The abdomen is usually the more productive location. The animal is sedated, Dr. Keller makes a small incision and uses a hemostat to remove between 20 - 40 grams of fat. Stem cells can be found in fat or in bone marrow. Fat contains up to 10X more cells than bone marrow. While the dog recovers from the extraction, the stem cell rich fat is placed in a sterile container and using the new equipment, a technician separates the stem cells out of the fatty tissue and awakens them using LED technology. The newly activated stem cells are combined with PRP in a serum which Dr. Keller then injects directly into the troublesome joint or ligament. Because Countryside has the necessary technology in house, the processing procedure takes about four hours. Depending on how much fat is harvested and how many stem cells are required for the initial injections, unused stem cells can be preserved and banked at MediVet for future treatments.

To get an idea of how many stem cells are actually in 40 grams of fat, one of Dr. Keller's patients, a Boxer, yielded over a billion stem cells in the 40 grams of fat harvested. The average number of stem cells varies from 500,000-750,000 depending on the size of the dog and how much fat is harvested.

Once injected, the stem cells naturally migrate to the arthritic joint or damaged ligament or tendon and immediately begin reducing inflammation and, in the case of a joint, rebuilding cartilage. The therapy takes advantage of the natural ability of the cells to heal and multiplies their effectiveness by concentrating them in the serum.

Mary Bernd, a long-time receptionist at Countryside, thought her 12-year-old Cairn Terrier, Darby, was on his last leg, literally. Darby suffered from a deformed elbow joint since birth. The bones in the leg began growing too fast, causing the leg to bow severely. An initial surgery in which Dr. Keller cut the lower leg bone in half and attempted to set that bone back into the elbow joint did not work. As Darby aged, severe arthritis set in and the leg began turning outward, to the point where the groomer couldn't turn his leg out any more. An expensive course of anti-inflammatory and pain medications were all that was keeping Darby upright.

"I thought this spring Darby was dying. I went to Dr. Smith and said, 'the pain medicines aren't helping him.' He was on three different pain medications. I figured that one was creating an ulcer. She advised me to stop the medicines. Well, he couldn't even move at that point," recalled Bernd.

Dr. Keller recommended stem cell therapy.

"We did the stem cell procedure on Darby and within two weeks. I didn't notice so much in the leg right away, but they said there were side benefits from the treatment. He's got cataracts, but his eyes were clear; you could just tell he was feeling better immediately. Then, progressively, I could see an improvement in his leg. The groomer says that now she can pull his leg out and straighten it. He stands in the tub and puts his feet up on the edge, which he couldn't do before.

He's back to running around and scuffing with his legs. I'm weening him off of meds. He's off of Previcox, almost totally off of Gabapentin, and I should be able to begin weening him off of Tramadol soon. He could end up medicine free. I was nervous as all get out because I really didn't think I'd see these kinds of results. It is amazing," said a grateful Brend.

Brend has banked Darby's extra stem cells with MediVet for future treatments when needed.

When successful, results from stem cell therapy can last 1.5 - 2 years, after which time banked cells can be reinjected in additional treatments as needed going forward. Currently stem cells are specific to each individual animal and cannot be used on other animals. Using the animal's own cells eliminates any rejection issues.

"That's probably the ultimate goal, is to get to where I can just pull it off the shelf and we can inject it, but that's not the case yet," said Keller.

Keller said studies of additional ways to apply stem cell therapy continue, including areas like allergies and kidney disease.

One of Keller's cases involved a paralyzing spinal cord injury. Surgeons at the University of Minnesota removed the damaged disc after which Keller employed two courses of stem cell therapy 30 days apart to the traumatized tissue and ligaments surrounding the injured area of the cord. The dog now has a good leg, not perfect, but functional.

Dr. Keller emphasizes stem cell therapy is one more avenue to consider when thinking about a pet's quality of life, particularly when suffering from arthritis, hip dysplasia, ligament and cartilage injuries or other degenerative diseases. Client's should weigh the costs and side effects of long term medicinal treatments, particularly on a pet's kidneys, when compared to the less harmful and naturally effective advantages of stem cell therapy.

"By the time all is said and done, between harvesting the fat, the anesthesia, the processing of the stem cells, sending off to MediVet, sedating the second time if needed, on average you're looking at $1750 for a 20 gram procedure and $2100 for a 40 gram procedure for everything. The only additional cost to an owner would be $150 per year if they chose to bank the additional stem cells," said Keller.

For more information about pet stem cell therapy or to see if it is an option for your pet, contact Dr. Keller at 715-246-5606 or by email at: