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Bridgeville veterinarian gives dogs new lease on life

| Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 1:05 p.m.
Dr. Suzanne Mullings operates on Mocha, a 7-year-old male Labrador retriever with a problem with one of his front legs. Photo by David Mayernik Jr.

"Wow, my dog's a puppy again,"

Gregg Stewart, president of Medivet Pittsburgh, says that's the reaction veterinarians most often hear from owners whose pets receive the company's stem cell therapy to alleviate arthritis, ligament and tendon issues.

"Well, it's weird, because if you say that, it sounds like we're doing voodoo. That's not what we're doing but that's how the owner perceives it," Stewart said.

"Because what they think is: 'I have a 10-year-old dog but all of a sudden he's starting to move like he hasn't for all these years.'...The fact he's now moving and running and jumping, the owner's perception is: 'That's what he did when he was 5.'

"That's the perception. We're not turning the clock back. It is an interesting way to heal the environment with repair cells."

Last month at Allegheny South Veterinary Clinic in Bridgeville, Dr. Suzanne Mullings operated on Mocha, a 7-year-old male chocolate Labrador retriever.

The procedure involves taking a small amount of fat from the animal, dissolving it to separate stem cells from the material, and injecting them back into the area needing treatment.

"They came from the dog, they're going back to the dog. There's no ethical issue, there's no moral issues. It's the dog's own cells."

Stewart said stem cells are more plentiful in the human body when people are young. As someone gets older, stem cells dissipate so scar tissue forms on injuries.

"It was very unlike what you think stem cell therapy is. You think embryonic, you think I have to take stem cells and grow them and all that. That is not what we do. That is not what this therapy is all about.

"What this therapy is about, at least for the last 20 years, is you can get stem cells or 'repair cells,' from fat tissue, or any tissue in your body."

Mullings has performed the procedure on only a handful of dogs. She said Mocha's owners brought him in three months ago after complaints of limping on his front left leg.

After trying pain relievers and ruling out disease, he was diagnosed with elbow dysplasia and tendinitis.

"I really believe in it from seeing its effects. I think this is where veterinary medicine should be heading...it does so much and it's really taking advantage of what the body can do on its own. We're not taking it from any other animal. It does the job.

"If we can do things to an animal to help it through pain without having to overuse pharmaceuticals, I think that's marvelous."

She said the benefits of the surgery are plentiful.

"I think it's a good decision for this dog. Despite being 7 years old, he's still young. We want to keep him happy and comfortable as long as we can."

MediVet was the first company in the United States to develop stem cell therapy as an in-clinic procedure.

Former procedures involved sending material to a lab, where it was processed and shipped back to the doctor 48 hours later.

Proprietary technology was also developed in Australia involving "light activation" of cells.

"It sounds like rocket science, and it really sort of is, but it's as easy as baking a cake," Stewart said.

Other than Bridgeville, he said the only doctors performing stem cell therapy on animals in the area are in Waynesburg, Edinboro, Cranberry, Monroeville and Apollo.

"This is the third wave of medicine now: regenerative medicine. If I can get that tendon or ligament or joint to heal without laying down scar tissue, I have a much more complete healing and a much more useful tendon, ligament or joint."

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