By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Some pets are getting a new lease on life thanks to technology that allows for harvesting adult stem cells.
Two veterinarians in Vero Beach, Darrell Nazareth of Florida Veterinary League and Randy Divine of Divine Animal Hospital, have provided stem cell injection therapy to dogs and other animals with moderate to severe arthritis and joint or ligament damage and owners are reporting positive lasting results.
Whether it's a 15-year-old dog struggling to walk or a 26-year-old chimpanzee limping because of a torn ACL, a one-time procedure could make a world of difference.
Arthritis in animals is the same things as arthritis in humans and other mammals, an inflammation of the joints, Dr. Nazareth said.
As part of the stem cell therapy procedure, the surgeon harvests fat cells from an animal's stomach during surgery.
"It's a minor surgery, similar to the level of spaying or neutering, done in about 20 minutes or less," Dr. Nazareth said.
The stem cells are then processed from the fat tissue and suspended in platelet rich plasma which is injected directly into the joints suffering from arthritis, he said.
"Dogs, cats, horses, chimps, cheetahs, any animal with arthritis can be treated with the therapy. What we're doing is using the patient's own body to heal itself," Dr. Nazareth said.
"Drugs always have side effects, we know this, but this therapy really has no side effects because there are no rejection issues. It's their own body and it falls in the category of regenerative medicine, helping the body heal itself without medication," he said.
All the patients Dr. Nazareth has treated have responded well to the therapy, including two chimpanzees at the Save the Chimps Sanctuary in Fort Pierce.
Katie, a 15-year-old Springer Spaniel, was treated in January at Divine Animal Hospital. Two months later, her human companions, Marie and Kenneth Chauvin, were thrilled to see her progress.
"My husband and I can't believe it as we watch her walk around and yes actually run and it's with a big smile on her face," said the Chauvins in a letter.
"We felt that we had to document our experience and Katie's remarkable progress to let other people know that there is an option and one that worked for us," they wrote.
The therapy cannot turn back time, but it can provide an animal with the ability to heal faster from an injury or to decrease joint pain without needing a cocktail of drugs, Dr. Nazareth said.
The cost of the therapy has come down slightly since it debuted several years ago, clocking in at about $2,000 today.
The length of time the treatment lasts is unknown and appears to vary with each animal. Experts estimate it to be anywhere from 1 year to 5 years.
Should pet owners chose to have the injection therapy done a second time at Dr. Nazareth's office, the surgery to remove fat cells from the animal's body would not have to be done again because the animal's tissue would be cryogenically preserved from the first procedure, which would cut down on the cost of a second treatment, Dr. Nazareth said.
The stem cell injection therapy is slowly beginning to receive approvals for use in humans, and scientists are studying its potential benefits to spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, he said.
For more information about stem cell therapy in Indian River County, visit www.floridaanimalleague.com or www.divineanimalhospital.com.