A major gift to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine will support two groundbreaking studies focusing on the use of stem cells as an alternative to surgery to treat a chronic degenerative joint disease in dogs.
“Stem cells collected from healthy donor dogs may offer a nonsurgical option for dogs with pain and stiffness from osteoarthritis of the knee and elbow,” said Antonio Pozzi, D.V.M., an associate professor of small animal surgery at UF.
Made possible through a $330,000 gift from Robert and Janet Sabes and the Sabes Foundation, the studies will track the effectiveness of stem cells injected into the knee joints of dogs with osteoarthritis due to a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament — known in humans as the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. Another study will focus on the treatment of elbow osteoarthritis secondary to elbow dysplasia, a common disease in large breed dogs.
UF veterinarians are currently seeking up to 60 dogs to participate in the study. Eligible dogs should be showing signs of lameness or limping for at least six months but are still weight-bearing, Pozzi said. Eligible dogs are also on anti-inflammatory medication and are 2 to 10 years old.
The treatment is free for study participants, but the dog’s owner must cover the cost of the initial evaluation.
“The long-term goal is to try to effectively treat dogs with chronic cranial cruciate ligament rupture and osteoarthritis without surgery,” Pozzi said. “The other key goal is to improve quality of life for the dog, decrease pain and improve limb function and mobility.”
Pozzi said most dogs that have shown signs of lameness for less than six months would probably benefit most from surgery, whereas older dogs, or dogs with ongoing osteoarthritis, may be better candidates for this stem cell treatment.
These specific studies have never previously been performed in dogs and could yield valuable data about how effective this treatment can be, Pozzi said.
“We are going to be approaching this in the most scientific way we can to really test the validity and effectiveness of stem cell treatment in dogs,” Pozzi said.
UF veterinarians will assess orthopedic function, as well as activity and quality of life of the dogs to see if their conditions improve. After initial treatment, the dogs will be evaluated after one, three and six months to determine levels of inflammation.
Pozzi said it is common for dogs with cruciate ligament injury in one leg to soon see the same problem in the opposite leg. In the future, UF veterinarians also hope to explore whether stem cell injections in the opposite leg might be able to delay or prevent cruciate ligament injury.
“Stem cell research is the future for the advancement of longevity in both humans and animals, as well as the future of disease prevention and cure,” said Robert Sabes. “The Sabes Foundation has donated to many medical research programs in the hope of further advancement of stem cell technology.”
He added that he and his wife, Janet, as board trustees of the foundation, feel that there is no more important area worthy of support in today’s world.
“This area of research is something that affects us all, as well as our closest friends and companions — our dogs,” he said.