TARPON SPRINGS – In his office at St. Francis Pet Care Center in Tarpon Springs, veterinarian Michael Amsberry is helping lead the way with stem cell research.
Working with Animal Cell Therapies, a veterinary stem cell research and development company in San Diego, Amsberry is experimenting with the use of umbilical stem cells to treat canine allergic dermatitis, which typically presents as a skin rash or irritation.
Allergenic umbilical cord stem cells are removed from healthy dogs, purified and then transferred in the form of an intravenous infusion into dogs suffering from chronic allergic skin problems. So far, Amsberry has treated four Tarpon dogs, all of who underwent allergy testing to prove that they had elevated blood values, with between 10 million and 15 million purified, certified stem cells, depending on weight. Throughout the following six months, the dogs will continue to get different tests and rechecks to determine the success of the transfusion, focusing on whether their immune systems reject the stem cells.
“Stem cells are so naďve, baby-like, nonoffensive, that you can treat any dog with them,” Amsberry said. “Age and breed doesn’t matter.”
And so far, none of the subjects have shown any negative side effects.
“There’s really no downside,” Amsberry said. “We’re treating with living cells that have been shown to decrease inflammation and calm the immune system. They can rebuild bones, cartilage, muscle. They can repair organ damage. They can pretty much do anything.”
As far as Amsberry knows, his pilot study is the first such experiment being conducted in the United States (although the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine is conducting a similar study using umbilical stem cells to treat canine arthritis in knees and elbows in conjunction with Animal Cell Therapies). Money plays a huge role: so far, Animal Cell Therapies has spent millions of dollars to fund the stem cell transfusions while they wait for FDA approval.
Despite the costs, however, Amsberry said the study is already proving its worth.
“Initial indications are that it is very valuable. We can treat hundreds of different ailments,” he said. “With drugs, you’re always worried. It might make my boo-boo feel better, but what about the side effects? If we’re able to treat the body with living cells with no side effects, how much better is that going to be than drugs?”
If this pilot study proves successful, Amsberry said that he and Animal Cell Therapies will begin experimenting with other canine ailments. Eventually, research will switch to humans, where scientists are already looking at the effect of stem cell transfusions on everything from wound healing to congestive heart failure.
“We’re trying to do our part here to see, in the canine world, if these cells are helping and in what situations they’re going to help the most,” Amsberry said.