When Did Stem Cell Based Technology Start in Veterinary Medicine?
The first report of stem cell therapy in veterinary medicine was in 2002 when the treatment was used on a horse that had suspensory ligament desmitis. This is an injury to the tendon found in the lower one third of the horse’s leg.
However, the number of mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow samples is very low – between 1/100th and 1/1000th of a percent so the reason why they work could be due primarily to the growth factors that are found in this type of tissue. Some studies have shown that the associated growth factors actually stimulate the synthesis of the matrix needed for stem cells to grow on.
How are Animal Cells Used in Research?
There are several ways that animal cells are used in research. The first way is when horses and dogs develop injuries to the bones, muscle, cartilage and tendons. That’s when veterinarians may opt to use stem cells for treatment.
The second way is when spermatogonia stem cells are used in the field of assisted reproduction to preserve endangered animal species. These same types of cells are also used to create transgenic animals for the production of pharmaceutical drugs or to use in research studies.
Allogeneic stem cells companies are trying their best to create off-the-shelf stem cell products. The costs would be lower than for that of a tissue harvest procedure. They would still include costs of insuring that the stem cells are free of disease plus the cost of storage of them until they are sold.
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The Problems of Using Animal Cells in Stem Cell Research
There are several problems of using animal cells in stem cell research but below are three of them:
1. Who’s Overseeing The Whole Thing?
One problem with these studies using animal stem cells is that they are not supervised by any regulatory agencies.
2. Will They Cause Disease?
The animal proteins used for stem cell growth can’t be used for the treatment of humans. Using human cells to grow stem cells for humans could result in the transmission of disease.
3. With All the Animal Research That’s Been Done, It Still Isn’t Helping the Animals.
Even though a lot of stem cell research is done using animal cells, there are no actual clinical reports explaining to veterinarians how to use stem cells to repair fractures, improve GI function, heart function or enhance the neuroendocrine systems.
What Types of Stem Cells are Used in Animal Research?
There are three main types of stem cells used in animal research:
A) Bone marrow aspirate of mesenchymal stem cells that is culture expanded (this one takes up to six weeks to prepare.) In horses, this sample is taken from the sternum. In dogs it’s taken from the femur, humerus or tuber coxae.
Studies have shown that this type of stem cell transplant will help tissue re-organize itself, and has favorable effects on tendons and ligaments. In one study 90% of horses treated with this method successfully regenerated tendons and horses in racing situations had no re-injuries within two years of the procedure.
When used for joint injuries, this type of stem cell treatment shows anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects.
B) Concentrated bone marrow aspirate of mixed cells. This type of stem cell treatment contains fibrin, which forms the internal scaffolding that attracts stem cells. The stem cells will then begin dividing and regenerating the tissue.
C) Mixed cells (cells with nuclei) from adipose tissue
Embryonic stem cells and cord blood cells are not used yet in clinical veterinarian practices. However, the mixed cells from adipose tissue have been used to treat about a thousand horses for tendonitis over 8 years.
The Use of Animal Stem Cells – Is It Ethical?
We already know that there’s a lot of benefit to the use of animal stem cells. But is benefit the only criteria that should be looked at? What about ethical considerations?
It was John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath that said, “Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.”
Some of the considerations about ethical aspects of using animal stem cells include:
• How appropriate are animal models of the human condition they are designed to represent?
• What outcome measures for efficacy and safety must be assessed?
• What is the time frame that should be used for follow-up to determine efficacy and safety?
• What are the best strategies to minimize rejection?
• What is the best source and type of stem cell for a particular treatment?
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The alternative to using animal stem cells for research, according to a professor at University of California and others at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom is to create a scaffold made from carbon nanotubes that the cells can grow on.
The scaffold is similar to how the body would create the environment for the supportive cells that allow the ‘skeleton’ setup for the stem cells to attach to. Once the stem cells begin attaching to this skeleton, they then begin dividing.
The Big Controversies Stem From Ethics
In August of 2016, the National Institutes of Health made an announcement that they were going to be lifting the ban on funding a certain type of animal research. It’s the type of research that takes human stem cells and injects them into the embryos of animals.
The ban is lifted because it’s believed that human disease can be better understood if actual human tissues or organs are grown in animals.
You should know that human cells have been added to animals for a very long time. For example, human tumor cells have been tested in mice to try to determine a way to kill the tumors. However, research using stem cell therapies is different. That’s because the stem cells can end up becoming one of many different types of cells once they are in an animal embryo.
If a pig grows you a kidney, and that kidney is transplanted in you, you are essentially mixing the species of human and animal. And some would say this is against the Word of God according to the Bible in Deuteronomy where it states not to mix the seed.
Experts in the biology field admit that when human cells develop in an animal embryo’s brain, it’s possible that the animal could begin to have human consciousness. All this has been science fiction in the past but now it’s here – and it has to be dealt with.