Stem cell therapy used to treat cats could also help people

Bob, one of the cats that was cured through a stem cell-based treatment developed at UC Davis.--Courtesy of the University of California, Davis

Cats with a debilitating tooth ailment called feline chronic gingivostomatitis (FCGS) sometimes experience pain even after getting teeth removed or taking multiple doses of antibiotics or steroids. But a new treatment that draws on the cats' own stem cells could prove game-changing in helping animals that are suffering from the disease.

Scientists at the University of California, Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine took a cat's fat-derived stem cells and injected them into the animal's veins to reduce swelling and promote tissue regeneration. The researchers found that the method resulted in cats living a normal, pain-free life. Scientists also pinpointed a biomarker for the disease that could come in handy when flagging potential cases.

"This is the first study to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of using this type of stem cell therapy for a naturally occurring, chronic inflammatory disease in cats," Boaz Arzi, a veterinary dental surgeon at UC Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement. The UC Davis team members are "the first researchers to come up with this patent-pending technique for any mammals, including humans," he added. The scientists published the research in a recent issue of Stem Cells Translational Medicine journal.

Now researchers want to see if the UC Davis team's findings could apply to humans with oral diseases. Nasim Fazel, a dentist at the UC Davis Health System and co-author on the study, is working with the veterinary medicine team to carry out studies comparing biomarkers and characteristics of FCGS with chronic oral inflammatory conditions in humans. Fazel recently submitted a grant to kick off a human clinical trial of the stem cell therapy in treating oral lichen planus (OLP), a disease that affects the mucous membranes inside the mouth.

"We're in desperate need of novel therapies to treat chronic inflammatory mucosal disorders such as OLP, which are challenging to treat and of major impact to patients' quality of life," Fazel said in a statement. "Having this opportunity to translate what we're learning in veterinary medicine to human medicine and working together to bring therapies discovered in the cat model to chronic oral inflammatory diseases in humans is exciting and has great potential."

Meanwhile, several animal health companies are developing stem cell treatments for animals. San Diego-based VetStem Biopharma announced last year that it was launching a trial of a stem-cell based therapy to prevent a dangerous condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) in horses. Ocata Therapeutics is also jumping on the bandwagon, publishing a paper last year showing that a stem cell therapy showed promise in treating dogs with canine anal furunculosis (CAF), a painful illness that resembles Crohn's disease in humans.

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- here's the study

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