Vet Uses Stem Cells To Heal Pets


The Tampa Tribune

Published: January 30, 2009

Five years ago, when Pam Lowry brought Lucy in to Dr. Jim Antunano's veterinary clinic, the dog's joints were riddled with arthritis and the problem was getting worse and more expensive to treat - she was hardly walking.

At first, Antunano, who owns and practices at the Animal Medical Diagnostic Center, 1102 E. Bloomingdale Ave., treated the 9-year-old dog with conventional procedures, using non-steroid, anti-inflammatory drugs.

A year ago, he performed surgery on Lucy's knee, but the problem remained and in March, Antunano and Lowry decided to try a more revolutionary approach to fixing Lucy's problems: stem cell regenerative treatment.
Stem cells are found in most multi-cellular organisms and are characterized by the ability to renew themselves through cell division and differentiating into a diverse range of specialized cell types.

With stem cell regenerative treatment, stem cells are taken from fat cells of the animal's body, placed in ice packs, shipped and processed at a laboratory in California, shipped back and injected into the site of the problem, the same day. The cells then promote tissue regeneration and alter the progression of the disease.

Antunano, a licensed veterinarian since 1980, said although the procedure is more practical than traditional surgery, only about 10 to 15 veterinarians around central Florida are involved with the treatment.

Antunano said he expects the procedure to grow in popularity as pet owners see its benefits and value. He said traditional bone and joint surgery costs about $2,500 plus possibly thousands more in after-care treatment, while stem cell treatment runs a flat rate of $3,000.

"I think it benefits all the dogs that have used the procedure. It eliminates having to use drugs," said Antunano, who's practiced in Valrico, about five miles north of FishHawk Ranch, for 12 years. "They don't have to do major surgery. When you get the process going, it completely regenerates the joint."

In addition to his degree and veterinary surgery license, Antunano went through a special certification course with Vet-Stem, the Poway, Calif.-based laboratory service that enables veterinarians to utilize Vet-Stem Regenerative Cells.

To do that, the vet collects a small fat sample (about two tablespoons) from the animal, ships it overnight to the Vet-Stem laboratory in San Diego, Calif. The company processes the sample, concentrates the cells and ships them overnight in ready-to-inject syringes. By the third day, the veterinarian injects the cells directly into the injured site.

"Our success in animals is directly translatable to humans," said veterinarian Dr. Robert Harman, chief executive officer of Vet-Stem Inc., on the company's Web site. Within 30 to 45 days, Antunano said, dogs that used stem cell regeneration were back to walking, running and jumping like they were two years old again.

Lowry said that's exactly what happened.

"I highly recommend this. It's like I have a new dog. She likes to jump around; she was absolutely miserable before this," said Lowry, who's lived in FishHawk Ranch with her husband, Ross, for five years. "You can tell she feels good."

Antunano said he thinks stem cell regenerative treatment is the procedure of the future.

"The mobility and loss of pain associated with tissue regeneration of the arthritic joint is quite convincing," he said. "The potential benefits of stem cell therapy improving animal welfare are limitless."

Prior to the advent of stem cell treatment, pets with bone, joint and arthritic problems were on steroids, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory agents, pain medications, acupuncture and injections to relieve joint and disease pain.



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