ELLSWORTH — Visitors to the Bellaire pet crisis center With a Little help From My Friends get an official welcome from Moka.
The Labrador retriever was found behind a Bellaire restaurant in 2011 and now serves as the center’s mascot.
Peforming her duties has been increasingly difficult for the dog, who suffers from severe arthritis in her hips. So recently the center turned to Ellsworth veterinarian Christian Randall of North Country Veterinary Services, the first in northern Michigan to offer in-clinic adipose stem cell therapy.
The procedure uses a pet’s own blood and tissue to produce plasma-rich platelets and stem cells that proliferate growth in damaged areas.
Dormant stem cells are separated from adipose -- fat tissue -- and activated with an LED technology that uses three different wave lengths of light. Then the cells are injected directly into the affected area or administered intravenously to help promote regeneration. The result is a decrease in pain and lameness and increased range of motion.
“It’s using the body’s own repair cells to repair damage,” said Trey Smith, director of laboratory services for MediVet America, which developed the technology Randall uses.
The therapy is the first treatment to help heal and slow the progression of osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease rather than just cope with the symptoms, said Randall, who saw the results while studying at Virginia Equine Imaging and now plans to use it on equine as well as canine and feline patients.
“It concentrates, speeds up and amplifies the body’s own healing power,” he said.
Stem cell therapy has been around for a while, but in-clinic availability of the technology is new. Only a handful of veterinarians in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids offer the services, said Randall, who charges $1,800 to treat a dog or cat. Repeat injections are possible with banked plasma-rich platelets and stem cells.
Before the one-day procedure, veterinarians had to send blood and tissue to an outside lab for processing, a more costly three-day procedure that requires an animal's return visit to the vet for injection.
Significant results can be seen in as little as a week to a few months. In a recent study published in Veterinary Practice News, 96 to 98 percent of dogs treated by independent veterinarians showed marked improvement after 60 days.
“I think we’re starting to realize that there is more than one way to get a good outcome,” said Randall, who plans to combine the stem cell therapy with other therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic, Chinese and herbal medicine and traditional pain medication. “As a profession we are starting to see that the best solution is to blend many therapies.”
Moka showed signs of progress a day after being injected in the hips and intravenously with a portion of a small vial containing hundreds of millions of regenerative cells, said Mona Minish, vice president of With a Little Help From My Friends.
“The pain she is having we were keeping at bay with pain medication. However, it had reached a point where it was debilitating,” Minish said. “She already seems to look better, move better.”
Kandi Randall, who co-owns North Country Veterinary Services with her husband, declined to say how much the technology cost their clinic.
“It’s an investment, but to be the first in the area to have it and hopefully have the return is worth it,” she said.