Stem cells are the body’s master cells, which can travel anywhere in the body to repair and regenerate damaged tissue. Doctors worldwide are using them to address a variety of challenging health problems. New mothers are diligently banking umbilical cord blood, a rich source of stem cells, with services such as the Cord Blood Registry and LifeLine Cryogenics.
Now, just as hyperbaric oxygen therapy has transitioned from the human medical field to the veterinary one, so too is stem cell banking. Bob Harman, CEO of Vet-Stem, Inc., San Diego-headquartered pioneers of stem cell regeneration therapy for dogs, wondered why a service similar to cord blood banking couldn’t be provided for pet owners’ peace of mind. Now, that service is here — it’s called StemInsure, and it will keep your dog’s cells on ice, ready to be thawed whenever they’re needed.
I have witnessed the astonishing success stories of senior dogs who undergo stem cell regeneration therapy late in life. Two of my dogs, Sam the Pit Bull and Sheba the Border Collie, experienced remarkable results at age 14 and 15, respectively. But stem cells harvested from a puppy’s adipose (fat) tissue carry the promise of even greater regenerative powers, because the cells are, frankly, much younger and therefore more potent.
However, puppies are not connected to their mother by umbilical cords, Harman explains, so cord stem cell collection is not possible — but there are “other opportunities to collect a sample of fatty tissue — say, at the time of a spay or neuter or other elective surgery.” And that’s precisely how StemInsure’s cells are collected.
It’s a win-win: The StemInsure tissue collection is done concurrently with a planned, anesthetized procedure, then the cells are banked for future use. That’s one fewer surgery your dog will need to undergo later. With culturing in Vet-Stem’s sterile lab, one tiny tissue sample can yield a wealth of extrapotent stem cells, which are cryopreserved so they’re ready to use by the time your dog eventually needs them.
Nancy Sapper, Vet-Stem’s marketing manager, was among the first to try out StemInsure, and is excited about the service. She frequently posts on Facebook and Twitter about Boomer, her daughter Kaley’s mini Australian Shepherd.
“Our neighbor has an agility class once per week, and Kaley asked if she could start Boomer, at about 9 months of age, just to give him some exercise,” Sapper recalls. “Kaley and Boomer thrived at it. I was somewhat hesitant because working here at Vet-Stem, I frequently hear about cases of dog athletes getting injured doing what they love, and the stories are heart-wrenching. I had some major concerns, but mostly I didn’t want to see Kaley or Boomer go through that.”
Owners of competitive canine athletes such as disc dog superstar Wallace the Pit Bull may be especially intrigued by this new technology as a way to safeguard the joint health of their high-profile hounds.
When Boomer was neutered, his vet took a grape-sized sample from his falciform ligament. Vet-Stem processed it and cryopreserved it. Boomer now has his own stem cells waiting to be thawed and grown if he ever needs them. He can use them for an injury, arthritis, or maybe even something that we don’t know stem cells can help him with yet. Incidentally, Vet-Stem anticipates that stem cells will be applied to the treatment of autoimmune and other challenging dog diseases in the very near future.
What’s more, the StemInsure procedure is much less expensive than the separate surgery and collection Vet-Stem involves. Previously, to get stem cells, you needed to do a Vet Stem collection procedure, which costs upward of $2,500. Now, with StemInsure, you just have to pay a $50 annual banking fee to retain the cells after they’ve been collected.
Sapper is proud to announce that Kaley and Boomer participated in their first agility competition in February, winning first place in the Junior Handler Division. “I am so grateful that I have peace of mind to let them do what they love,” she says.