Veterinarian uses stem cells to heal spinal cord illness

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University of California, Davis

With veterinarians across the country training to use stem cells for tendon and ligament repair, a professor at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) wants to take the technology a step further by applying them to chronic, cell-based diseases.

Richard Vulliet, DVM, is very early into the work. But he is optimistic about the evidence as it exists, of course, and he may have had a success.

Vulliet has treated four dogs with degenerative myelopathy with their own stem cells, which he prefers to call mesenchymal stem cells or pluripotent marrow stromal cells. The terminology has evolved and those names are more descriptive, he says (…)

Vulliet says he got interested in treating these conditions because he was working with mesenchymal stem cells and their interaction with connective tissue, and it was boring. Then he came across two papers.

In one of the papers, Japanese researchers described treating induced cardiomyopathy in experimental rats (Circulation 2005;112:1128-35). They reported that when the cells were injected into the myocardium, function improved, and there was evidence that the cells formed new vascular structures and produced collagen.

In the other paper, researchers at Tulane University in New Orleans induced spine injuries in experimental rats and treated them with mesenchymal stem cells. When they treated the animals immediately after the injury was induced, there was no apparent effect. However, when they waited one week before treating, they found that at five weeks, seven rats out of 12 could lift their trunks with their hind legs. By comparison, none of the 10 rats that were not treated showed similar signs of improvement.

Vulliet says notions of how mesenchymal stem cells might enhance the healing process have expanded beyond the idea that the cells migrate to a site of injury, differentiate into the proper type of cell and incorporate into the tissue. They might modulate immune response as well (…)

Stem cells are an ideal entrée into real-animal research, Vulliet explains. Experiments with human subjects and stem cells are not generally allowed, and federal regulators are unclear about whether they have the authority to regulate such research, since the cells are not drugs and usually are autologous tissue (…)


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