Stem cell therapy helps pets feel young

LOS ANGELES Monty is a five-year-old golden retriever with arthritis, hip and elbow dysplasia.

WATCH: Stem cell therapy works wonders on the family pet

"He's always happy," said his owner, Steve Armogida. "Monty is -- even when he's in pain, you can't help but think he's happy."

His wife Beth agrees.

"Very happy dog," said Beth. "He wags with his whole body -- that's what a lot of people say."

Beth and Steve rescued Monty. He struggles sometimes to keep up with the family's two younger dogs -- Sam, a black Labrador retriever, and Luca, a daschund.

Dr. Charisse Davidson, DVM, MS of the CM Surgical Specialty Group is Monty's veterinarian. During a recent visit, Dr. Davidson harvested adult stem cells from Monty's own body fat. Because they are adult stem cells that do not require the destruction of an embryo, this procedure bypasses the ethical debate about embryonic stem cell research. And because the cells come from Monty's own tissue, there's no risk of rejection.

"The stem cells aren't a miracle, but they're science and they've been shown to help in about 77 percent of cases," said Dr. Davidson.

One successful case was Covin, a12-year-old golden retriever who couldn't even stand up on her own. Pat Glazier was close to putting her beloved dog down, but tried stem cell therapy after nothing else worked.

"She was like a new dog," said Pat. "She can stand up by herself. She comes when she's called. She can go up and down chairs."

Stem cell therapy for animals started with race horses. More than 3,000 horses have been treated so far, including Be A Bono, a race horse that suffered what could have been a career-ending injury.

"You're always skeptical," said Be A Bono's trainer Dan Francisco. "You want to see if it works, somebody has to try it. We did. It worked."

After stem cell injections, Be A Bono returned to racing, going on to win more than a million dollars in prize money.

Back at the South Pasadena animal hospital, Monty's fat tissue was shipped to the Vet-Stem laboratory outside San Diego, where the procedure was developed. The stem cells are then isolated, which concentrates their healing power.

"They also signal other cells to come in, which is an interesting concept called trophism," explains Dr. Julie Ryan Johnson, DVM, of Vet-Stem. "They're basically signaling the body to send in other defense mechanisms to come in and clean things up."

The cells were shipped back to Dr. Davidson and then injected at the points of injury. Three syringes of Monty's stem cells were re-injected. The rest were banked at the Vet-Stem lab in case Monty needs them down the road.

Six months later, Monty is back to his old self. It's a transformation Beth, Steve and Dr. Davidson hope to see beyond the animal world.

"Maybe this will set an example for the human world to say, look, we're having success on dogs, maybe we can have success in people, too," said Dr. Davidson.

Stem cell therapy has been used on more than 1,000 dogs and 19 cats so far. The cost depends on the health of the animal, but can range from $2,500 to $4,000.

For more information, or to find a veterinarian in your area who is trained in stem cell therapy, visit the Vet-Stem Web site

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