New treatment eases pet pain

SARAH-JANE O'CONNOR
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2013
stem cell pets
DANIEL TOBIN/ Fairfax NZ
STEMMING PAIN: Lord Claude the st bernard was the first Christchurch dog to receive new stem cell treatment at Total Vets. Kirsten Wylie and Thea Sweeney inject stem cells to ease osteoarthritis in his hips and knees.

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Christchurch pet owners have a new way to splash out on their pet care, with the arrival of stem cell treatment costing $2500.

The method uses stem cells from the animal's fat to inject into arthritic joints to relieve pain and limit the need for anti-inflammatories.

Tauranga veterinarian Gil Sinclair started using the technique in his clinic after learning about it in Australia, and has travelled the country helping other clinics set up laboratories.

On Tuesday, Sinclair was in Christchurch to help local clinic Total Vet with its first two patients, a kunekune pig named Samantha and a 78kg st bernard called Lord Claude.

Both animals suffer chronic osteoarthritis, and their respective owners made the leap in the hope of providing pain relief and greater joint use.

Total Vet owner Kirsten Wylie had been keen to get the new treatment in her clinic and approached Lord Claude's owners with the proposal to provide longer-term relief for his arthritis and hip dysplasia.

Stem cells were present throughout all body tissues, but were in particularly high concentration in bone marrow. Using bone marrow was difficult and time-consuming, as extractions had to be cultivated in a laboratory for several weeks to get enough to be useful.

The technique that Sinclair used could be completed in a day. In the morning the animal was brought in and blood and fat samples taken. Only a "heaped tablespoon" of fat was taken, and the stem cells removed and concentrated.

Platelets from blood had high levels of naturally occurring stem cell activators, so these were added to the dormant stem cells to "wake" them up.

Lord Claude had stem cells injected into both hips and knees. If the procedure worked, his owners could expect to see improvements in his pain management in a few days or weeks.

Owner Bob Janek said the 3-year-old was already putting weight on his legs and did not look in pain for the first time in two years.

"To make him feel better, I would do anything for my boy. He's our baby."

Sinclair said about 80 per cent of cases showed an improvement, "some of them are absolutely dramatic". The effects could last for years and could "basically replace day-to-day anti-inflammatory tablets and injections".

Wylie said ongoing, daily treatment could be "just as costly" as the upfront price for the new therapy and would only mask the pain.

With the stem cell treatment, "it's not like you're covering up pain, you're actually repairing the joint", she said.

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With the Total Vet clinic now set up for the procedure, other vets in the city will be able to send blood and fat samples to be processed for their own patients.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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