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Stem cells rejuvenating arthritic dogs

Samantha Donovan, ABC October 8, 2011, 11:49 pm

Australian vets say they are having great success treating arthritic dogs with stem cells and researchers developing arthritis treatments for humans are taking a keen interest in the technique.

The trouble is that some dog owners feel their four-legged friends are getting better treatment than they are.

Melbourne vet Ray Ferguson has had a particular interest in treating arthritic dogs for about 30 years.

At first he was sceptical of the benefits of canine stem cell treatment, but he has now treated about 40 dogs.

“For individual joints where a dog has one bad knee or one bad elbow, the treatments are very simple,” he said.

“A very, very light anaesthetic and we pop an injection of the stem cells straight into the joint and it’s all over in about five minutes.”

Dr Ferguson says the stem cells come from donor dogs.

“These largely come from dogs that are being de-sexed, they’re all young dogs so we’ve got young, vibrant cells,” he said.

Dr Ferguson says preliminary trials involved dogs with skin disease and joint disease being injected with stem cells as well, but the arthritic dogs responded best of all.

“Particularly in the early trials I did five dogs, one of which was my own that had I would say incurable lameness, persistent lameness,” he said.

“They all responded and those five dogs are all sound today. That’s amazing.”

The stem cell treatment costs between $1,500 and $3,000.

Dr Ferguson says he tells dog owners the stem cell treatment works best on younger dogs but dogs up to about 10 years of age are also responding well.

“I have to point out to them, look I’m not offering a fountain of youth. This isn’t going to turn an old dog into young dog,” he said.

“But it’s just a wonderful, adjunctive therapy to have to everything else that we’ve got.”

Humans ‘getting jealous’

Professor Richard Boyd is the director of Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories at Monash University.

He says the stem cell treatment of dogs is helping researchers understand the effect similar treatment would have on humans.

“Their lives are constrained into 10 or 15 years and that reflects a human going from up to 70 or 80 years,” he said.

“So the conditions which are generative which a dog gets in 10 years like arthritic hips and joints is very similar to what ageing humans get.

“So we can treat these dogs and improve their health using these stem cells. But it has a double-edged advantage of being able to say to our clinicians, look we’ve done now 8,000 animals.

“This is a basic very good basis to being able to treat humans.”

Professor Boyd says the dogs may actually be getting the better and more innovative treatment than a lot of Australians.

“The retired senior who’s taking the rejuvenated dog for a walk is now getting jealous,” he said.

“But I think that what we will see certainly soon is that this is sort of like the winter of stem cell research, it’s now becoming the spring of stem cell therapy.

“So hopefully we’ll get a retired senior and a retired dog both walking briskly along the beach.”

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