Stem cell treatment heals police dog

February 9, 2009 5:29:05 PM PST
The first human trials involving stem cell therapy were approved just weeks ago, but a growing number of other patients are already benefitting from stem cell treatments.

Those patients are dogs and the results are reportedly encouraging.

Cris the police dog is a five-year-old German Shepherd who was a whisker away from retirement last year when he tore a muscle in his rear leg during training.

"He was jumping and the next morning he came and he wouldn't put any weight on his leg at all," Fremont Police Officer Matt Snelson said.

Snelson is Cris' partner at the Fremont Police Department, where the dogs are expected to do everything from sniff out drugs to chase down fleeing suspects.

"They can run three times as fast as a human. So, if we have someone running, it's easier to use the dog to apprehend them," he said.

Officer Snelson took Cris to Dr. Gary Brown, a veterinary surgeon who has treated dozens of injured police dogs.

"A big red flag went up because that type of injury is often repetitive," the doctor explained.

Instead of surgery, Brown opted for an emerging treatment using Cris' own stem cells. After removing body fat from the stomach area, Brown sent them to a lab in San Diego which extracted the cells and returned them in less than 48 hours.

"So, we sterily injected an aliquot of stem cells next to the muscle at the injury, at the other side, and some of it intravenously through a filter," Brown said, explaining the process.

Brown then monitored ultrasounds which showed the return of normal muscle growth over several months. He says the technique is still considered experimental in dogs, but has been used for about five years in horses.

"And, at eleven weeks it's starting to look like normal muscle; the dog is clinically normal and so we put him into rehabilitee stretching rehab," Brown said.

Eventually, Cris was able to chase down suspects during drills. His progress continued to the point that he was able to rejoin the force two months ago.

The technology is marketed by a San Diego company called Vet-Stem, which says it is also being used to treat hip dysplasia and joint problems, so far, without evidence of complications.