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Stem cell therapy used to treat pet arthritis

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DECATUR, Ga. -

Veterinarians are using stem cell therapy to treat joint pain and stiffness in pets.

They first started using stem cells to treat injured horses, now they're using that same treatment for dogs and cats with arthritis pain.

A couple of years ago, Mike Timms and his wife, Candace, noticed their yellow lab, Sarah, had slowed down. The 12-year-old dog's joints had become stiff and painful.
        
"Every time she would sit down, of course she would grunt. And it hurt; you could tell it was hurting," said Mike Timms.

The vet put Sarah on medication, but it didn't help. So Candace Timms went online and found a company called Vet-Stem in California, who sent them to Clairmont Animal hospital Decatur.

The Timms hope a stem cell procedure will help lessen Sarah's joint pain and buy her a few more good years.

In a two-part treatment, veterinarian Dr. Michael Smith used Sarah's own cells to try to repair the damaged joints in her lower back, and hips and ankles.

First, Sarah is taken back into the operating room and placed under general anesthesia.  Then, Dr. Smith collects fat from her abdomen -- rich in adult stem cells -- and places the tissue into sterile tubes that will be shipped overnighted to Vet-Stem's lab in California for processing.

Two days later, Michael and Sarah are back are Clairmont, and so are her now-concentrated stem cells, which had just arrived from Vet-Stem.

Now, it's time for part two of the treatment.

"We're going to be injecting in the back of the ankle near the Achilles tendon," Smith said.

Smith re-injects Sarah's stem cells into five targeted areas where her joints are abnormal.
        
"Well, the hope is that this will stimulate some healing," Smith said.

Like most medical procedures, there's no guarantee this will work for Sarah. Vet-Steam says about 3,500 dogs have been treated since 2006. Roughly 80 percent of owners surveyed report their pet's symptoms and quality of life improved after the treatment. But 20 percent saw no improvement, so the Timms know this is a bit of a gamble.

But six weeks later, Mike Timms says Sarah seems to be moving more easily.   

"We're starting now, probably within the last week, that we can see some improvement," Timms said.

Sarah is no longer struggling to keep up with her sister Sophie and mother Jasmine.

"Now she's right there with them walking, so I think it was worth the cost of having it done," said Timms.

Timms is hoping that this is just the beginning of better days for Sarah.

"I think her quality of life has actually improved.  She feels good again, which she hasn't felt good in probably in two years," Timms said.

Sarah's cells have been banked. The Timms paid about $2,500 for the stem cell procedure.

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