Holladay • Honey, a 9-year-old Labrador retriever, underwent a first-ever procedure for Utah that is expected to heal the dog's hip dysplasia.
The stem-cell procedure, performed Friday at Cottonwood Animal Hospital, involved removing fatty tissue from Honey's shoulder and separating out the stem cells in a process that includes light-emiting diodes. Veterinarian Rob Bagley then injected the activated cells back into the animal's diseased joints.
"I'm excited about the potential this procedure will have for pet owners," said Bagley. "The technology is relatively simple, and looks like it can offer some great results."
Assisting Bagley was Mike Hutchinson, a Pittsburgh veterinarian who has performed more than 75 similar treatments on dogs and cats.
"This new technology marks a significant milestone in regenerative veterinary medicine," said Hutchinson. "We are now able to bring the results of hundreds of millions of dollars of research directly into our own clinics."
The cost for Friday's operation: $1,800.
Hutchinson also is a small-animal spokesman for the Australian-based MediVet, which has introduced same-day stem cell therapy to treat hip dysplasia like Honey's, as well as arthritis, ligament and cartilage injuries and other degenerative diseases.
No drugs were used, other than an anesthetic. And animals usually wake up pain free. The greatest post-op concern, said Hutchinson, is that animals feel so well that they can re-injure themselves by becoming active too soon.
The procedure's cost is about half that of a hip replacement and is far less invasive than other procedures. Honey woke up alert and went home that same day with her owner, Christine McClory of Draper.
"Everything went beautifully," said McClory. "I'll be keeping a detailed journal to track her progress and to help other animals with the problem. They [the pets] really are a part of a family."
Stem-cell therapy, first used on race horses, has been commercially available in the United States since 2003. Traditionally, the procedure meant sending tissue to an outside laboratory for processing, and waiting days for the stem cells to be returned for injection. Costs were about $3,000, nearly double the amount for the new procedure.
Hutchinson said that with the same-day process, technicians also are able to collect 2,000-fold more stem sells, greatly improving chances that degenerative diseases can be successfully treated.
The procedure means good business for a veterinary practice. It requires equipment that MediVet sells for about $7,000. A company official estimated that practitioners who perform five procedures a week may earn up to an additional $300,000 annually.
Nationally, the pet business appears to be recession proof.
Americans are expected to spend $47.7 billion on their pets this year, up from $45.5 billion in 2009 and $43.2 billion the year before, according to the American Pet Products Association. About 7.4 million homes have a pet or about 62 percent of U.S. households, compared to 56 percent of households in 1988.
Vet bills also are on the rise.
Last year, U.S. pet owners spent $12 billion on veterinary care double what owners spent a decade earlier, the association said. Today, the average yearly cost of veterinary care ranges from $210 for a large dog to $160 for a cat not taking into account costs of emergencies and catastrophic health problems.
Animal stem-cell procedure
Stem cells are taken from an animal's own fatty tissue to heal muscles and joints damaged by injury, disease or degeneration. Instead of using the old method of shipping the tissue to an outside laboratory for stem cell extraction, a new process allows veterinarians to process the cells on site, and inject them into the animal that same day.
Cell therapy for humans
In the U.S., more than 60,000 procedures are done on patients, using their own bone marrow, blood or fatty tissue to treat a variety of ailments. At the University of Utah, according to cardiovascular surgeon Amit Patel, procedures using a patient's own cells are preformed in areas of cardiovascular, burns and orthopedics. Soon, neurology for people suffering from traumatic brain injuries will get the treatment.
"I can take your bone marrow, and in 15 minutes, I can have a concentrated product of cells that I can inject back into your body," he said. "Within a couple of years, we likely will be using tissue engineering as well."