Local veterinarian Bob McClung has been practicing in Tiffin for 37 years, with a special interest in surgery and immunotherapy. Two years ago, he started offering stem cell therapy for spinal cord and joint injuries in dogs at Animal Hospital of Tiffin. Owners from other towns and other states have brought him their dogs for treatment. The method McClung uses was developed by a company called Medi-Vet, based in New Zealand.
"We were the first Medi-Vet clinic in Ohio," McClung said.
A few years before that, he had tried an earlier type of stem cell procedure that turned out to be too complicated and time-consuming. McClung said the "fourth-generation" method required cell samples to be collected from the animal's bone marrow or fat tissue and sent to a lab to be propagated, a process that took about six weeks to complete. The stem cells then were frozen and returned for injection, but many did not survive.
Medi-Vet's more recent fifth-generation treatment derives stem cells from adipose (fat) tissue. McClung said this source produces a large number of stem cells, which allows some to be kept frozen for "booster" doses later. Medi-Vet sends McClung a readout of the number of live cells retrieved.
"We have collected 900 million to 4.6 billion in dogs. Minimum joint use should be 40 million up to 90 million. Because of the yields we're getting, we're injecting 200 million and still having cells to put away," McClung said.
For treatment, the pet comes in between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. It takes about 30 minutes to collect blood and fat tissue, usually from the falciform ligament in the abdomen or from fat deposits around the base of the tail or behind the shoulder blades. About four hours is needed for processing in the lab with "an expensive kit" (about $1,800).
The stem cells must be separated from fat cells. Platelets are removed from the blood and combined with plasma-rich protein as a medium for the stem cells. The mixture is concentrated and further stimulated with LED "light baths" using two wavelengths of yellow and two wavelengths of green light for 40 minutes. An IV delivers the activated stem cells into the dog's body in about an hour. Then the pet goes home to let the stem cells do their work.
"It's all done in one day," McClung said.
He shared the stories of two pets that had dramatic improvements with stem cell therapy. One was Boomer, an Australian shepherd with two arthritic knees and two arthritic hips. Boomer was young enough and healthy enough otherwise to benefit from the treatment. When the dog was brought in, he could barely move without pain. Two weeks after the injections, Boomer could stand on his hind legs. After 60 days, he could leap and jump. McClung said Boomer probably is due for booster treatments to repair additional joint damage.
"This doesn't correct the conformational defects, so the problems that created a deterioration of the joints in the first place are still not corrected," he said. "We're just repairing tissue with their own cells.
"That's the most important part of this. They're doing self-repair," he said. "We're not using a foreign substance. We're not using another animal's tissue. It's an autogenous form of self-repair, and it's safe."
Another patient of McClung's is Rose, a Basset hound. Every day, her owner was giving Rose pain medication that failed to keep the dog comfortable, so she thought stem cell therapy would be a more effective way to help her pet. After the injections, Rose resumed her favorite activities with so much enthusiasm, her owner told McClung he had created a "devil dog."
"A high percentage of animals having stem-cell treatment have a 90-percent reduction of pain scores, improvement in gait and improvement in function and quality of life," the vet said.
McClung said Medi-Vet offers online seminars every week to educate professionals on new developments. The company's leading researcher, Dr. Michael Hutchinson, has administered stem cells to many different animals, including racing camels, sheep, race horses and domestic cats.
Animals with a joint replacement on one side and stem-cell therapy on the other have had better results with the stem cells. The healing time is shorter because the technique does not require extensive surgery, and the cost is lower. McClung said some pet insurance policies cover stem-cell procedures.
"We gave people their animals back. Some of them come in on a stretcher," McClung said. "It's one of the most exciting things I've ever done."