Jun 6, 2014

Stem cells: How do they work?

Ready for a little more detail on how stem cells can work?  Great!

Stem cells are kind of multi-purpose, so how they work depends on the particular need.  Ben has volunteered as our example.  Let’s say Ben, being a Border Collie, is so focused on chasing a frisbie that he fails to see the fence in his pathway.  He crashes into the fence and in addition to knocking down the fence, injures his shoulder.  We go to his favorite vet (not me!) and we get the diagnosis of a small tear in one of the shoulder muscles.   Before we even got to the vet, Ben’s stem cells come out from their resting places and travel via the blood stream to the injury.  The stem cells follow a trail of signals released from the injured muscle.  Yes, they actually home in to the injury.  To learn more about homing go to the lower portion of this page.

Once there, the stem cells decide that the muscles cells are injured.  They start the repair by releasing special chemicals/drugs like growth factors.  These specialized molecules will start the growth of new blood vessels, help reduce the swelling and pain immediately, and also call out to other specialized repair cells like the muscle progenitor cells.  These progenitor cells can turn directly into new muscle cells to replace the lost/damaged cells.

Wow!  These stem cells have a lot of duties.  And to top it off, while the muscle injury is under repair, the stem cells produce special drugs that help block formation of scar tissue.

Summary of duties:

  1. Rush to injury
  2. Make new blood vessels to bring nutrition
  3. Block pain and reduce inflammation
  4. Call muscle repair cells
  5. Block scar tissue formation

So in spite of being a Border Collie with a one-track mind, Ben’s injury will repair itself using natural healing cells.

If the injury is not just a small tear, the repair might need help to get a speedy recovery and block the scar tissue.  This is where stem cell therapy is so great.  For now, realize that your veterinarian can do a procedure of harvesting some of your dog’s own stem cells, contained in fat, in a minor surgery and send them to our advanced medicine laboratory for concentration.  The lab will return them ready to inject the next day into the injured muscle.  Just like that we can provide a whole dose of healing stem cells to help along the natural healing process.

Next post, let’s discuss arthritis and how stem cells might help prevent or treat injury, and degeneration of your dogs precious joints.  And remind me to tell you about my own shoulder (yes, I might be a little bit Border Collie too).

See you next post!

Dr. Harman


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