by Guest Writer on November 9th, 2010 at 11:03 am
by Zane Binder of the SunSentinel
VERO BEACH — You can’t gaze into Tule’s liquid, shining eyes without being moved.
Happiness bursts from those glowing orbs and her tail wags rapidly, the sleek fur coat that covers the yellow Labrador retriever mirroring the 12-year-old’s meticulous care. But Tule’s eyes didn’t always shine.
Tule was plagued by crippling arthritis, her hindquarters severely compromised and her enthusiasm toward life muted. If Tule wasn’t living during the 21st century, her twilight years might have turned ugly. But a revolution in veterinary medicine, on science’s cutting edge, arrived just in time.
The answer was stem cell therapy.
“It’s so good to see her getting around again!” said Vero Beach resident Jane Tutton, a biologist and Tule’s owner. “[The arthritis] had to be incredibly painful.”
Merely mentioning stem cell therapy usually ignites a firestorm of religious and moralistic objections, said Integrative Veterinary Clinician Darrell Nazareth of the Florida Veterinary League, Vero Beach. He’s one of just seven vets nationwide trained to prepare and administer the therapy on-site.
“Remember, this isn’t human stem cell treatment,” he said, emphasizing fetal cells, umbilical cord blood and the like aren’t used. “The stem cells are taken only from an animal’s own fat,” adding they can grow into most any cell type.
This discovery created an opportunity for entrepreneurs such as Jason Griffeth,of Stemlogix LLC. Griffeth, chief operating officer of the privately owned Weston-based firm, has developed stem-cell therapy for dogs and horses using the “animal’s own fat” technique. Though stem-cell treatment is still limited “many, many more” uses — such as for different diseases and in the nation’s 50 million plus cats — aren’t far off, Griffeth said.
So far, about 25 animals have received stem cells using Griffeth’s procedures. He has competitors, too, but none use the same focus as his firm.
For Tule, Tutton said stem cell treatment was simple and seemed relatively painless. Using a needle, the vet removed fat cells from her hindquarters. It was processed on the spot in Nazareth’s lab. Ninety minutes later, 363 million stem cells were ready to be injected into Tule’s joints.
Within days, Tutton saw a dramatic difference, with Tule acting “almost like a puppy.” Nazareth cautioned each animal reacts differently to the procedure, though his smile indicated he was pleased with Tule’s results.
He pointed out multiple shots might be necessary and the injections might last only for a finite period. They’re not cheap, either: about $2,500 is the starting point for pet treatment.
“But for my Tule, it’s well worth it,” Tutton said.
Griffeth’s firm, which has Vero Beach roots as Griffeth grew up here, has been in business since June but development work has been going on for about a year. A company affiliated with Griffeth now is attempting to navigate the choppy waters that eventually could bring stem cell therapy to humans via fat cells.
Though progress in the field is slow, Griffeth said it’s best to be safe.
“Animals first, later humans. This is going to be [huge],” he said.