SPRING HILL, Fla. (WTSP) – Advances in modern medicine aren’t limited to just humans, our pets are seeing the benefits as well. When it comes to stem cell therapy, a handful of Tampa Bay dogs are part of a clinical trial that could pave the way to new treatments for humans.
Stem cell therapy became associated with controversy in recent years over what some people considered unethical harvesting practices, but thanks to advances in the technology stem cell treatment research has continued with less ethical criticism. The results have opened the possibilities to treat all kinds of diseases and conditions, and could be the beginning of a groundbreaking change in medicine.
“There’s no limit, actually, on what could be done with the stem cells,” said Dr. Gerald J. Johnson, a Spring Hill veterinarian of 35 years who is one of the contributors to the clinical trial. “We’re just starting to hit the tip of the iceberg on the uses or indications.”
“It’s kind of taking us into the next century because we are running out of using drugs for everything, we’ve moved towards treating things more naturally,” added Johnson. “Maybe there will be some complaints from the drug companies because we may be using less medications to treat a lot of diseases.”
On this day Dr. Johnson was injecting Emily, a 14-year-old cocker spaniel taking part in the clinical trial, with either stem cells or a placebo. Emily suffers from arthritis and qualified for the trial which guarantees that she will receive actual stem cells later if she’s given a placebo initially.
“I’m hoping and praying that it works,” said Tanya Canada, Emily’s owner. “Decomposition that’s been going on in her hips, I didn’t know how bad it was until they took x-rays. It’s really, really bad, she masks her pain quite well, she never whimpers or cries, and yet she hardly has any bone structure left in there.”
“I’m just so thankful that this opportunity is there for her to try this,” she added. “I know it’s a placebo versus the real thing so we’re just going to have to wait and see but I’m hoping she’s getting the real thing because she’s almost 14, she doesn’t have that much time left.”
“This would advance medicine, especially veterinary medicine, where you can actually get this out of the refrigerator and inject almost any dog that has a problem in different parts of the body,” added Dr. Johnson. “The implications are vast because the stem cells will be able to be used for, not only arthritis, but you could use it for neurological conditions, you could use it for thyroid problems, skin conditions, inflammatory bowel problems…”
“For the last two decades stem cell therapy stands in the forefront of medicine,” said Dr. Cesario Borlongan, a neuroscientist at University of South Florida Health Department of Neurosurgery & Brain Repair. “Before we go to clinical trials in humans, if we can prove in animals – in this case, dogs – that stem cells are safe and effective in treating arthritis then we hit the first milestone. If it can treat the dogs with arthritis then eventually, once we prove that they’re safe and effective, that’s the only time that we need to go to the clinic.”
For now, it’s dogs like Emily who stand to pave the way for new treatments for humans.
“Even if she only has a few years left, at least she would have happy years and be able to run and play again. That’s all we’re asking here,” said Canada. “Just to be able to have the joy of getting up and walking independently and not having that horrible pain. It’s worth a try. What’s life if all you can do is sit there and hurt?”