A New Way to Heal
Veterinary Stem Cell Therapy
The benefits of establishing a stem-cell therapy program in your practice.
By Paula Andruss
Regenerative medicine has received a lot of attention in the human medical field, and now it’s starting to take hold in veterinary medicine as well. One of the most promising areas of this new discipline is stem-cell therapy for pets, which can offer relief from the pain and swelling associated with arthritis and other joint afflictions. The treatment is improving the quality of life for a growing number of pets while offering veterinary practices a new and solid revenue source.
In this type of stem-cell therapy, the animal’s own stem cells are used to reduce pain and inflammation and help repair and regenerate damaged tissue in pets suffering from arthritis, dysplasia and other tendon, joint and ligament issues.
In the first step of the procedure, the veterinarian collects fat tissue—an area rich in stem cells—from the animal, typically under general anesthesia. That collected tissue is then processed (either in-house or at an outside lab) to further concentrate those cells. Once the stem cells are processed, the veterinarian injects them back into the animal’s affected area under sedation or local anesthesia, depending on the number of joints to be treated and the severity of the joint disease.
“The animal’s own stem cells are extracted, concentrated and then put back in to treat orthopedic diseases and injuries,” explains Bob Harman, DVM, MPVM and chief executive officer of Vet-Stem, a Poway, Calif.-based stem-cell therapy services provider.
Once the stem cells are reintroduced into the patient’s body, they reduce inflammation and pain and spur a healing process that can regenerate tissues. Initial improvements from the therapy can be seen anywhere from a week to two months after treatment. As the inflammation and pain subside, the animal can move around better, allowing it to start a rehabilitation program.
Treatment can be repeated when the effects start to wear off, typically between 6 and 18 months. While some animals don’t ever need stem-cell therapy again, about half of all animals need a retreatment within a year or two, says Harman, noting that using the Vet-Stem process, extra cells are stored from the original harvest so that animals that do need repeat treatment don’t have to go through sample collection again.
While harvesting stem cells is always done in the clinic, the cells can either be processed in-house or sent to an outside stem cell processing lab. Because in-clinic processing needs to be conducted in a sterile environment and requires equipment and staff, most veterinarians choose to send their samples out to providers such as Vet-Stem, says Harman.
Veterinarians wanting to establish a stem-cell therapy program in their practices must first become certified, a process available through online training. Vet-Stem offers a free, nationally approved online course in regenerative medicine to learn how to implement stem-cell therapy in a veterinary clinic.
“None of us as vets got any training in regenerative medicine; it’s really new to the industry,” Harman says. “It’s not difficult or expensive, it just takes education.”
A New Profit Center
Fees for stem-cell therapy vary depending on the animal and its diagnostic makeup, but a typical cost to pet owners is in the $2,500 to $3,000 range, Harman says. Adding and marketing a stem-cell therapy program to a clinic can create a new profit center to replace some of the prescription-filling business that many veterinarians have lost to online and big-box pharmacies, Harman adds.
“Because it requires veterinary skill, training and service, this is not something that’s ever going to be stolen by big-box retailers,” he says. “Stem-cell therapy is going to keep expanding into more uses, so getting a base for regenerative medicine incorporated into your practice now is a great way to set yourself up for future growth.”
Paula Andruss is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based writer and editor.