Experimental stem cells could help dogs suffering from arthritis

- By age 10 up to 80 percent of dogs will develop arthritis. It can make it difficult for them to walk, stand or even move, but the experimental use of stem cells from young dogs could help rejuvenate joints in older animals. 

Brian Cirillo is concerned about his four-year-old dog Cosby's health. 

"He's always the last one to kind of get moving and if he's laying down for a long time he takes a long time to stand up," Cirillo said.

Initially acting as fosters, Brian adopted Cosby and his two siblings when they were just four weeks old, bringing the total number of rescue dogs at their home up to six. 

"He's the only one that's so scared of everything and I'm starting to wonder now if it's because he's in pain, you know, and he doesn't want to have to get out of a situation or something," said Cirillo.

To diagnose Cosby's problem he's getting a physical exam, X-rays, and blood tests, but there's a possibility Cosby could qualify to get something else-- an injection of experimental stem cells into his joint. 

"We're looking at taking the miraculous healing capabilities of the body, concentrating it, and then bringing it back to the body and we're not seeing a lot of side effects," Cirillo said.

Veterinarian Dr. Michael Amsberry owns the St. Francis Pet Care Center, one of several sites across the county taking part in a clinical trial testing whether specially grown stem cells made by animal cell therapies in San Diego will help arthritis symptoms in dogs. 

"Specifically this study is knees, hips, elbows and shoulders but the most common in this study is hips," Dr. Amsberry said. 

The cells are grown from umbilical cord blood. 

"So what they've done is harvested little umbilical cords from c-sections from dogs and they isolate these cells. They grow them up, they can culture them up to hundreds of millions of cells so from one sample they can treat thousands of dogs," said Dr. Amsberry. 

The treatment is free and Dr. Amsberry says so far he's injected eight dogs. 

"Any downside, we just haven't seen any downsides period," he said.

It's an experimental option Brian hopes will work for Cosby.

"If he gets older and keeps getting worse that's never good so if we can try to get ahead of the problem with stem cells and actually cure the problem and he doesn’t have to be on a lot of  chemicals and medicines his whole life, that would be great," said Cirillo.

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