Often, when people opine about the future of veterinary medicine, they speak of the day when we will use technology to heal damaged bodies from injury and disease. I am pleased to say that, in many respects, that day has arrived.
The field of regenerative medicine is a young and rapidly growing discipline that employs treatments designed to stimulate tissue healing and repair rather than merely address symptoms. These modalities are often used in combination with more conventional medical therapy and/or traditional holistic approaches to achieve better quality and quantity of life for our animal companions. Treatment options such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, stem cell therapy, and the utilization of the body’s natural electromagnetic nature are currently available and are promoting the health and well being of pets all around us.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is the practice of treating patients with pressurized pure oxygen. The result of HBOT enables oxygen to diffuse at least three to four times farther through tissues that it would normally be carried by red blood cells. The resultant dynamic within the body is that oxygen is no longer the limiting factor to tissue healing. In addition to increased oxygen levels leading directly to increased healing, HBOT also stimulates the release and activation of natural stem cells within the body which further speeds the healing process.
HBOT has been used in human medicine for years in the treatment of non-healing wounds, pancreatitis, decreased circulation, severe swelling, tissue damage, etc. In the veterinary field, applications extend beyond traditional uses and have been seen to benefit patients with such conditions as arthritis, disc and spinal disease, degenerative myelopathy, stroke, kidney disease, and a host of other acute and chronic ailments. HBOT can be used as a stand-alone therapy and shows great promise of having a synergistic effect with other regenerative therapies, such as stem cell therapy.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cells are cells within the body that have the ability to change, or differentiate, into other cells in the body. For example, a stem cell has the ability to become a heart cell or a kidney cell or a skin cell, etc. Stem cell therapy has been a topic of debate and controversy for years. Technology has now advanced to the point where stem cells can be easily collected from a patient’s own fat. These cells are then extracted and concentrated in a laboratory after which they are re-administered to the patient. The stem cells can be delivered directly to a damaged area such as an arthritic joint or they can be given intravenously to promote a more systemic healing process. Because the cells are from the patient’s own body, there are no concerns with tissue rejection or adverse reaction.
The classical use for stem cell therapy is for joint issues such as arthritis, ligament and tendon damage, etc. Statistics gathered from both doctors and pet owners show improvements in 80% of patients treated, and the results are often dramatic.
Stem cells are now beginning to move beyond a limited use in joint disease and into the treatment of more difficult-to-treat conditions such as kidney disease, heart disease, and other conditions that do not respond well to conventional therapy.
Pulsating Electromagnetic Field Technology
Although we don’t often think about it, people and animals create electromagnetic fields. All of our cells operate due to electrical input coming from our nervous systems and we now know that it is possible to utilize this electromagnetic field to relieve pain and stimulate healing within the body.
Pulsating electromagnetic fields (PEMF) have been used in a number of applications in medicine. PST (Pulsed Signal Therapy) is a patented technology scientifically proven to stimulate the regeneration of cartilage in joints. Patients suffering from arthritis and damaged joints often have pain due to the bone-on-bone friction associated with the loss of cartilage. PST uses electromagnetic waves similar to the body’s own electrical field to stimulate the regeneration of lost or damaged cartilage. In addition to improving arthritis, PST has been used successfully to improve some types of back pain and to facilitate the healing of broken bones.
Another type of PEMF is called an Assisi loop. In this case, when a body part is treated there is an increase in the production of compounds within the body that stimulate circulation and the growth of new blood vessels. The results of this treatment are increased rates of healing and decreased levels of pain. Assisi loops are used in veterinary medicine to treat pain due to arthritis or disc issues. They are also used for wound healing and neurologic impairment due to spinal instability or disc disease.
While we haven’t quite made it to 3-D printing of body parts, there have never been more medical treatment options available to pet owners than there are right at this moment. Regenerative medicine is providing us with the opportunity to not just treat symptoms, but to heal damaged tissues and organs. The integration of conventional medicine, traditional holistic treatment, and now regenerative therapies offer the prospect of truly making a difference in the quality and quantity of life for our pets.
The future of veterinary medicine is now.
Gary Richter has been a veterinarian in the East Bay for 15 years. He is the owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital and Holistic Veterinary Care, a facility dedicated to providing alternative, complementary, and regenerative health options for pets. Dr. Richter lives in Oakland with his wife, daughter, and several pets.