Mikey, a full-blood German shepherd, is up and running again, taking the stairs and trying to sprint along side his companion Gunnar, a narcotics-sniffing work dog of the same breed.
Before late November, Mikey was hobbling along with “the most progressive hip dysplasia I’ve seen in 13 years,” said Dr. Michael Herman, a veterinarian who owns South Charlotte Animal Hospital in Pineville. “His X-rays were just horrific, showing bone against bone.”
Herman, who says he was the first vet in Charlotte to offer stem cell therapy for animals, set to work doing an innovative stem cell procedure to regenerate growth in Mikey’s hips and leg joints.
In about his 15th procedure on area animals, Herman extracted fat tissue behind the shoulder area of the large dog. A technician at the hospital then takes two to three hours to add enzymes to “photo activate” the cells which accelerates the regeneration of cells.
“I normally take about two tablespoons of fat from either the shoulder area of the animal or the abdomen and within that fat is five to 50 times the amount of stem cells than what we can get from bone marrow,” he said.
Stem cells are the body’s repair cells, and they have the ability to divide and differentiate into many different types of cells based on where they are needed throughout the body.
The cells can divide and turn into tissues such as skin, fat, muscle bone, cartilage and nerve, according to Herman who has offered the costly FDA-approved procedure for animals for more than a year. A typical stem cell treatment costs about $2,000. It is only offered by his office for pets with osteoarthritis, fractures and ligament and tendon injuries.
Once Herman had Mikey’s regenerated cells, he injected them directly into the joint areas. Any leftover cells can also be administered intravenously and the cells find their way to areas of inflammation, according to the vet.
“Regenerative medicine is really the wave of the futures for vets,” said Herman. “It’s less invasive and will be a huge part of treating patients.”
The vet invested in expensive equipment and kits for his office to avoid having to send out tissue to be processed and “sometimes comprised.” He said he has had a 95 percent success rate and sees “amazing” differences in his patients on average about 45 days after procedures.
Stem cell therapy treatments have not been performed on humans since 2009, due to FDA regulations. The controversy over stem cell therapy in humans in the past has centered on the use of embryonic fetuses, amniotic fluid and umbilical cords.
According to Herman, cells at the embryonic level can differentiate cells on a much higher level, even replicating human organs. Contrary to embryonic cells, he said there are no moral or ethical concerns in harvesting these “adult cells,” activating them and reintroducing them back to the animal patients in areas where healing and regeneration is needed.
Mikey’s owners, Stephan Nadzam, 37 and his wife, Rosa DiSimone, 44, who live near Lake Wylie, know how stem cell therapy has affected their beloved dog. The pair rescued Mikey from a family that kept him crated nearly all day and night for four years, leaving Mikey’s legs in bad shape. He underwent stem cell therapy in 2009 performed by a New Jersey veterinarian. It provided relief for nearly four years until they noticed the dog was having trouble with stairs.
Nadzam trains working dogs to sniff for bombs, narcotics and other illegal substances.
“He had the surgery right after Thanksgiving, he came home that night after and whined to about 1 a.m.,” said DiSimone. “He wanted to go out and was walking very well. A few days later he was doing even better and hasn’t been on any pain medications since the treatment.”
Katie Miller of Cotswold is just as equally proud of her 13-year-old Labrador mix, Sadie, who suffers from osteoarthritis. In addition to having Herman perform therapy on the dog, Sadie also received a dose of platelet-rich plasma.
Miller shared a video of Sadie walking across her kitchen the night before the treatment. The dog hobbled and limped, breathing heavily. She then shared a video of Sadie trotting outside happily after 12 days.
“I truly think it’s been a miracle for her,” she said. “It’s allowed cells to regenerate and cartilage to rebuild. She and our younger dog play now, and Leila can sense how much better Sadie feels. Even her eyes look happier.”
Miller, 39, shared that she sold a ring that she inherited from a family friend to pay for the treatment. The friend loved dogs and was buried with several sets of ashes of his animals.
“I kind of like to think he’s looking down and would approve of this,” she said.