Animal Hospital
Quality Care
Dedicated staff
Conveniently located

Hours of Operation:

Monday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Wednesday: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday: 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

Stem cell research and use in veterinary medicine

Stem cells show so much promise in human medicine. Cells that have the ability to become anything that the body needs is nothing short of a miracle. What is the role of stem cells in veterinary medicine? Do stem cells have a place? Many say they very much do.

Stem cells are able to be harvested from animals and are primarily used in horses, dogs, and cats for arthritic conditions.

There is much less controversy in veterinary medicine over the use of stem cells (at least at the present time) because of where they are harvested, or obtained. Rather than take stem cells from an umbilical cord or from an unborn fetus, the cells are harvested from the host itself.

How is this possible? Right now we know there is a certain amount of stem cells that exists in adult animals in either fat or bone marrow. These stem cells are considered adult stem cells and are somewhat limited in there ability to become "any cell" as compared to embryonic stem cells. However, adult stem cells can become cells similar to themselves.

What does this mean? There are individual reports of stem cells being used in veterinary medicine for conditions like ligament and tendon injuries in horses, as well as to treat a condition called laminitis. Everyone knows what tendons and ligaments are but what is laminitis?

Laminitis is a condition in horses that affects the blood supply and connective tissue from the bone to the hoof. In mild cases of laminitis there is just pain and inflammation which can be treated with rest, anti-inflammatories and special shoes to fit on the hoof.

Unfortunately, many times mild cases can progress to severe cases. There are also specific causes of laminitis that skip the mild phase and go right to the severe phase. The more severe phase can permanently damage the blood supply and the hoof would actually start to separate from the bone. If this happens many times it is irreversible and the only option for this is humane euthanasia. Stem cell therapy has been used to help to regrow the blood supply and connective tissue.

There are also reports that injecting adult stem cells harvested from bone marrow or fat can be used to treat arthritis in dogs and cats. There is a thin layer of cartilage that covers the bone at the joint called synovial cartilage. Synovial cartilage cushions the bone at the joint, as well as produces joint fluid. Joint fluid not only acts as a lubricant allowing the bones to slide back and forth, but also contains natural antioxidants and immune defenses.

When arthritis occurs in dogs the thin layers of synovial cartilage begin to degrade, or break down. It doesn't happen all at once but when the cartilage is lost it does not grow back naturally. This is when you will hear orthopedists talk about "bone-on-bone" contact, and bone-on-bone contact is intensely painful.

The injection of stem cells into the joint has shown promise in regrowing this thin layer of synovial cartilage. No controlled studies have been performed to substantiate this claim. However, there are reports from various veterinarians using stem cells for this purpose that they see an improvement in their patients after receiving a stem cell treatment.

Using stem cells in veterinary patients to regrow tissue of any organ in the body is a long way off and even the use of stem cells for specific conditions like arthritis and laminitis has not been completely proven successful but there is hope on the horizon.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 13 years and is pictured with his son Matthew, as well as the newest member of the family, Jasmine, a Labrador retriever.

Matthew Kearns, DVM