As a veterinarian, Leslie Dahl knows the obstacles that aging pets can face. And as a pet owner, she has watched her own dog battle the stairs with arthritic hips.
But if all goes as planned, her dog will soon be walking pain-free. Doodle, a German shepherd, became a guinea pig, so to speak, as the first animal in Illinois to undergo a one-day, in-clinic stem cell procedure.
Dr. Mitch Robbins conducted the procedure on Friday at Buffalo Grove’s , where he removed fat tissue from Doodle’s abdominal area and used the center’s newest technology to inject the dog’s hip joints with her own stem cells.
“The reason that it works is that those cells that we’re removing and processing and stimulating are cells that are normally associated with the healing process and the inflammatory process in the body,” Robbins said. “So they go into the joint, they reduce some of the inflammation in the joint, they improve and reduce pain, they improve range of motion, they improve use of the joint.”
While the Buffalo Grove clinic has performed about 40 such regenerative therapy procedures over the past four years, until now the extracted materials were shipped off-site for preparation, resulting in a more drawn out and expensive process.
Last week, Veterinary Specialty Center adopted new technology from Kentucky-based MediVet-America, which allows medical professionals to complete the entire process in-house over the course of just a few hours.
Katherine Wilkie, MediVet-America’s lab services director, guided Buffalo Grove’s team through the process, which involves using machinery to separate stem cells from the rest of the animal’s tissue and cleaning it so that it can be re-injected.
While professionals received instruction, Doodle, still groggy from the tissue extraction, waited in a nearby cage. By the end of the day, she was picked up by Dahl, who brought her back to their Oak Park home.
Over the next few weeks, she is expected to regain her mobility, which has been hindered by bilateral hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis.
“With the stem cells, we’re hoping that they buy her some quality relief and improve her quality of life,” said Dahl, who is a veterinarian at Southwest Animal Care Center in Palos Hills. “I want her to be able to play and the next day not have any of the post-exercise inflammation that she’s having now.”
Robbins emphasized that stem cell treatment will not cure arthritis, but in most cases the procedure eases his four-legged patients’ discomfort. He said the treatment has benefited about 75 percent of his patients, and two-thirds have no longer needed pain medication.
That is especially important to pet owners like Dahl, whose German shepherd’s sensitive stomach won’t tolerate more traditional treatments. Last spring, she brought Doodle to Veterinary Specialty Center for collagen gel injections that noticeably improved the dog’s condition. When Doodle’s discomfort returned in recent months and Dahl learned that the treatment was no longer available, she jumped at the chance to test out the stem cell process.
“We’re going to do what we can to make sure she’s with us as long as possible,” Dahl said.
Robbins said stem cell therapy is generally effective for about 18 months. Extra cells are collected during the initial extraction and stored for subsequent injections, he said.
“They are never going to cure the arthritis, but they should do a very good job of controlling the pain that Doodle has, allowing her to resume a better, more normal quality of life,” he said.
MediVet-America’s technology was introduced in the U.S. in May 2010, and it is now being used in 23 states, Wilkie said, with one or two procedures taking place each day.
Doctors report success rates ranging from 75 percent to 90 percent, Wilkie said.
The procedure costs about $1,800; nearly $1,000 less than the expense of a multiple-day procedure, which involves the costs of sending the tissue to outside labs.
Robbins said he expects to use the new technology to benefit 20 to 50 dogs and cats per year.