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Immunotherapy for Arthritis: A New Way to Treat an Age-Old Disease

I currently live with one of the oldest dogs in San Francisco. He goes by the name Schuz and is a 22 year old English Border Terrier. While he has managed to avoid cancer, kidney failure, and other terminal geriatric diseases, he has problems getting around. Both of his knees have been surgically repaired and his spine is full of fused backbones. 

As a veterinarian who focuses largely on hospice and palliative care, I see more than my share of similar mobility-challenged dogs. This is why I spend a great deal of time trying to stay up to date on the latest treatment advances. A couple of years ago, I began to hear about an immune treatment for arthritis. But it wasn’t until I read the results from a recent study showing significant efficacy that I began to use it for Schuz. Now I am convinced more veterinarians should be trying it in similar patients.

Any dog, large or small, that survives into its senior years will eventually feel the discomfort of inflammation in their joints. Your veterinarian may label it as arthritis, osteoarthritis, arthrosis, degenerative joint disease, or a similar medical diagnosis. All of these terms denote a condition of progressive inflammation in otherwise healthy joints that leads to worsening pain and failure to function.

In many dogs, this inevitable decline leads to such a poor quality of life that euthanasia becomes the only humane option. As a result, doctors and pet owners are often desperate to find a way to ease the discomfort. Some of these treatments are effective and safe while others are unproven and can even pose significant health risks. Because arthritis is a complex disease process that is not fully understood, there are a wide variety of treatments available with very different modalities. 

However, we now know that the immune system plays a major role in the development of osteoarthritis. Lymphocyte T-Cell Immunomodulator or LTCI by T-Cyte Therapeutics is the first safe, effective immunotherapy product we can use to help ailing patients. 

While the initial cause of arthritic changes in the joints is unknown, it has been proven that the immune system is involved in its progression. This fact has been widely overlooked in developing therapies that have not considered the role that immune factors play. Traditional therapies have been developed around the long-standing belief that chronic wear and tear is the primary cause of arthritis. It has been largely accepted that over time, the progression of inflammation is unavoidable. Treatments generally focus on supplementing important components of healthy joints and reducing the discomfort of worsening disease. But these therapies ignore the immune changes occuring in an aging patient that are involved in the underlying causes of arthritis.  

These changes are due to the function of the thymus and how it declines. The thymus is an organ responsible for maturing regulatory T-Cell lymphocytes. These T-Cells are integral to regulating inflammation throughout the body. They are responsible for increasing inflammation where it is needed to fight infection and aid in healing, but they are also necessary to decrease inflammation from autoimmune processes. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system attacks normal tissues. Immunomodulators regulate these actions. It has been shown that osteoarthritis patients have the same lymphocyte abnormalities as patients with known autoimmune joint disease. LTCI is a naturally occuring product of a normal thymus that acts as an immunomodulator to reduce this degenerative process. 

Based on this information, a double-blind placebo-controlled study was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of treating arthritis patients with LTCI. It demonstrated a significant improvement in more than 90 percent of dogs treated with LTCI while the control group continued to decline. As a result, the USDA approved LTCI to treat osteoarthritis in dogs 1 year or older. Since then, it has been gaining popularity as one of the safest and most effective ways to treat arthritic patients. Because it can work in conjunction with other therapies, it should be considered for any dog suffering from chronic inflammatory joint disease.

In some patients, LTCI may even allow owners to discontinue using other treatments that are harmful. This is especially true for animals that rely on the regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. These include products like Rimadyl (carprofen), Metacam (meloxicam), Deramaxx (deracoxib), Previcox (firocoxib), and Galliprant (grapiprant). While some animals can tolerate this class of drugs for months or years, others may develop severe gastrointestinal damage or organ failure. Furthermore, these drugs do not reduce the cause of the inflammation, but block its development by short-circuiting the normal inflammatory process. NSAIDs play an important role in managing short-term pain, but in the long run, they can be viewed as a toxic band-aid for many patients. There are no drug interactions with LTCI, so administering it with NSAIDs does not make them more dangerous. Over time with LTCI therapy, patients may have their NSAID doses reduced or even discontinued without observable decline. LTCI can be part of a multi-modal plan since there are no contraindications with any other types of therapy. This includes treatments like oral supplements, Adequan injections, cold laser therapy, physical therapy, aquatic therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal, homeopathic, and others.

Schuz, the 22-year-old terrier, has been treated with nearly all of the above therapies. Before starting LTCI, he was reliant on Galliprant (an NSAID) being given each day to maintain his half-mile morning walk. I would sometimes need to carry him home. Within six weeks of starting LTCI treatment, he was able to be weaned off Galliprant and is now walking nearly 2 miles without complaining. He was the first of more than 25 patients I have treated with LTCI, and the majority of owners are convinced their patients have significantly improved. If you are caring for a dog that is showing signs of osteoarthritis, I strongly recommend you consider LTCI treatment. 

LTCI is given subcutaneously as a nearly painless injection. Treatment begins with five injections over the first four weeks. Usually patients are showing observable improvement by the fourth dose. After the initial five doses, a booster is given every two to four weeks as needed. With more than 200,000 doses given so far, there has never been an adverse reaction reported. LTCI can only be provided by a veterinarian approved by T-Cyte Therapeutics. Before starting therapy, a physical exam and baseline blood work need to be done to check for other underlying issues in your pet.

To learn more or to find a veterinarian who provides LTCI, visit T-Cyte Therapeutics online at TCyte.com. In San Francisco the Total Arthritis Plan for Dogs can provide LTCI and incorporate it into your regular veterinarian’s care. Information is available at TAPforDogs.com.

Brian VanHorn, D.V.M., has been studying and caring for animals of all types since he was a young boy. He is a California native who has made his home in San Francisco since graduating veterinary school in 2007. Prior, he worked as an animal control officer and in laboratories studying infectious disease. In 2012, he became focused on advanced senior care and providing home hospice for Bay Area pets. Since then, he has directed the medical care at Golden Gate Home Hospice. In his free time, you may spot him riding a wide variety of two-wheeled vehicles or feverishly nudging a pinball machine somewhere in the Bay Area.

Above, a photo of the amazing Schuz, a real old timer at 22.

Main article photo by: Photo courtesy Dr. Brian VanHorn