LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Age is catching up with Max.
Arthritis in his hips and knees makes it painful — and difficult — for him to get around the Hillcrest Animal Clinic and grounds.
The 13-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever has the heart, blood and soul of a youngster, but unfortunately, the joints and bones of a senior citizen.
That's why Dr. Pat McInteer, a Lincoln veterinarian, chose his best friend as his first patient for the procedure that uses Max's own stem cells to regenerate damaged tissue and ligaments.
The Lincoln Journal Star says (http://bit.ly/WO275R) McInteer used adipose-derived stem cell treatment developed by Kentucky-based MediVet America, a veterinary science business.
The process, which takes less than five hours from start to finish, begins with removing fat tissue from the animal, separating the stem cells from the tissue, activating the stem cells and injecting them into the affected area of the animal.
Within one month, Max should be walking better and without pain, said Adrienne Cromer, a MediVet veterinary technician who came to Lincoln to train McInteer and his vet tech Brandi Hale.
Currently, regenerative stem procedures mainly offer alternative therapies for joint and ligament issues, such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, ligament and cartilage injuries and other degenerative diseases. To date, stem cell therapy is primarily given to dogs, cats and horses.
Cost of the procedure is about $1,800 for dogs and $2,400 for horses, according to MediVet. Cost will vary depending on the number of injection sites on the animal, McInteer said.
Clinically speaking, little research has been done to establish whether it works and how long it lasts.
According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, some researchers are reluctant to call these derived cells "stem cells" because to date no one has proved these cells have the ability to differentiate into other cell types.
McInteer selected Max as his first patient so McInteer could see the results for himself and so he could offer to offer his faithful companion a better quality of life.
McInteer sedated Max for the procedure Tuesday morning, and then made a 6-inch incision just behind the dog's right shoulder and carefully cut away 40 grams worth of fat tissue — roughly the size of a playing card.
Cromer and Hale then took the tissue, cut it down into tiny pieces and treated it with a small alphabet soup of enzyme solutions. Over the next 45 minutes, the vial of treated tissue sat in a warm bath and periodically was shaken to break down the materials inside and separate the stem cells from the fat. Next, the cells were activated by other enzymes and plasma derived from Max's own blood.
Four hours later, Max was again sedated, as McInteer injected the activated stem cells into the dog's hips, back left knee and an epidural to his spine.
"We treat right at the source of the pain," McInteer said.
More stem cells are given by IV directly into a vein, thereby treating the whole body.
"Stem cells have a homing ability. They will find inflammation we didn't know was there," McInteer said.
Stem cell therapy is not a cure for the degenerative conditions of time and age, McInteer said.
"But stem cells are the next step in controlling inflammation and pain and minimizing the effect of arthritis," McInteer said.
As for Max?
"I know this is not going to make a 13-year-old turn 4. I just want him to enjoy 13 as much as he can," McInteer said.
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com