While navigating the potential path of treating a pet with cell therapies, one could find a lot of claims and promises of the therapeutic action of stem cells. Almost every disease occurrence is now, in some ways, tied to a stem cell treatment. The scientific perspective from this is highly positive, as it does indicate that progress is steadily being made in the science. A lot of the basic research conducted at academic institutions and at some companies are driving the treatment of diseases with stem cells. This is evident with the existence of such facilities at UC Irvine, UCLA, and USCF to just name a few (apologies for the California bias). On a very progressive note, UC Davis has a veterinarian regenerative medicine program which focuses on a variety of diseases in animals. Other admirable universities with veterinary regenerative medicine programs are University of Georgia and Virginia Tech in conjunction with U Maryland.
All of this is very exciting and instrumental in keeping the momentum moving strong in developing future stem cell therapies for both humans and animals. On the human side, the progress of clinical trials is listed on the www.clinicaltrials.gov website. A search of “stem cells” or “cell therapy” would result in the many different types of trials either getting started or in process. A review of the listing of the trials signifies that studies of this type of therapy are ongoing. Many believers are taking bold moves to see if stem cells will have a substantial effect on the future of medicine.
The veterinary side of clinical trials is not so clear. There is no central information source to search or to track the types of veterinary clinical trials that are ongoing. Any of the trials being conducted are confidential in nature and typically managed through university centers. The only chance we have to learn anything about these types of trials is through networking and asking the right people the right questions. However, this strategy may not provide much due to the confidential nature of the work.
Both of these approaches of stem cell based clinical trials are focused on one thing, ensuring cell therapy is safe and effective. The trials themselves are lengthy, costly and are subjected to a final decision bestowed upon it by the FDA. Yes, going through a process like this is challenging and daunting, but it is a necessary step in providing the treatments which are supposed to impact the future of medicine.
As the trials progress and conclude, the results will ultimately determine the applications of cell therapy. In looking at these trials, one must have a solid understanding of the expectations of the therapies. The days of the overhyped promises of stem cells should be behind us. Science has progressed enough during the last decade to reveal that stem cells are more complex than originally supposed and that they are not the cure-all. The most challenging part is the fact that the cells are living and they metabolize with their own energy demands. The debate is still ongoing whether the cells will incorporate into the damaged site or if they will settle to become support types of active cells that serve an anti-inflammatory function by secreting cytokines. Regardless, injecting something living into a body will require close scrutiny.
The progress of stem cell biology has, at least, guided researchers to focus on particular stem cells for treating particular diseases. For example, MSCs which easily differentiate into bone, cartilage and fat, tend to be used for skeletomuscular related types of injuries. Could these be used for cardiac and neurological diseases? As of now there is no answer, but they are in trials. Only the data will ultimately reveal the true power of certain types of stem cells.
The ultimate goal for companies and universities to pursue this science is to generate natural biological cures for diseases. Currently common autologous treatments of platelet rich plasma (PRP) and adipose stromal vascular fraction (SVF) are used to treat various cases. Some of the results are promising even though repeated treatments are needed. These types of applications are great first steps to generate case studies and to produce clinical data for cell treatments. These efforts, plus clinical trials, will eventually give rise to the outcomes the cell therapy industry needs to confidently state that particular types of stem cells are able to provide a cure, not just a treatment for the symptoms.