The Niche

Stem cells in fat might help arthritic dogs walk

An article in TIME describes a San Diego company that is already offering a procedure using stem cells collected from fat to treat pets with bad hips. Fat is scooped from a dog’s abdomen, and then the stem cells are isolated with centrifugation (spinning test tubes of cells so that the heaviest ones go to the bottom) and injected into the problematic area.

The techniques that I know of to isolate stem cells rely on identifying markers on cell surfaces; in fact, the company introduces a mixture of cells to the site of injury. Because these cells are minimally manipulated, they don’t require the FDA’s approval to be transplanted into the same patient they were collected from

But, it’s not so much the cells as it is their effects that matter, and the company has published an article on these effects in a journal indexed in PubMed. It examines results of treatment for 90 days and found improvement in the stem cell group. A follow-up would be interesting because these effects might be transient. Human transplants of mesenchymal stem cells for nonorthopedic indications sometimes show initial improvement that quickly fades away.

The TIME reporter writes that these cells then become cartilage and tendons, and it is true that mesenchymal stem cells, a sort that is found mainly in bone marrow but can also be derived from fat, can become cartilage-producing cells; however, there is quite a bit of debate about what the cells really differentiate into, and claims on this company’s website seem, to me, appropriately couched.

The company seems more keen to demonstrate efficacy than mechanism, which would make the most sense for the bottom line. It looks like there’s more to learn, though.


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