March 03, 2012
Pets As Vanguards For Rejuvenation Therapy Development

An article about the spreading use of stem cell therapies injected in the joints of arthritic dogs comes with a warning from a veterinary professor of orthopedics that the treatments being offered are unproven.

The problem, Cook said, is that although a few studies have shown that the injection of stem cells into arthritic canine joints does reduce pain, compared with “control” dogs not injected with stems cells, no studies have convincingly shown that stems cells are any better at helping dogs than the current, and less expensive, standard of care. That typically involves a combination of weight loss, pain medications and, when necessary, injections of hyaluronic acid, a slippery substance that often goes missing in arthritis.

Why I think this is important: Dogs (as well as cats and other pets) represent a great opportunity for accelerating the rate of advance of biomedical science and biotechnology. Dogs offer many advantages for development of rejuvenation therapies:

  • Lower regulatory barriers for entry of new treatments into the market.
  • Lower risk of lawsuits.
  • Lower life expectancies enable faster discovery of whether a treatment will extend life or maintain functionality for longer. Can a stem cell therapy extend life of a breed that averages 12 years of life which mostly dies from non-cancer causes? We can find out much quicker than for stem cell therapies used to accomplish the same in humans.
  • Veterinary medical costs are much lower than for humans. Many owners can afford a $2000 experimental treatment. I've spent more than that on an experimental treatment for a late great dog (and it worked btw).

Products in the veterinary medical space can be brought to market more rapidly, iterated upon more rapidly, and therefore improved more rapidly.

With owners eager to try new treatments, lower barriers to entry for new products, and far less risk of lawsuits dogs and other pets offer great advantages for development of therapies. But as the vet school prof above comments: Do the treatments actually work? That's the biggest problem standing in the way of the large scale use of pets as research subjects to extend healthy youthful life.

What's needed: Owners of pets should be able to enroll their pets online as controls or as participants for experimental treatments. We need to be able to find out which treatments help independent of the companies that offer them. This would help both the dogs and eventually humans in the long run.

Owners of pets who try assorted stem cell therapies, gene therapies, and the like have information that is now not being collected systematically. That's a great lost opportunity and the opportunity will grow with each new treatment that reaches the veterinary market. If vets could also report information then test results could be combined with owner observations (e.g. did Fido start running again after stem cells injected into joints?) then the efficacy (or lack of efficacy) of therapies could be discovered much more rapidly.

This ties into a bigger problem: As things stand today truly objective medical research is much rarer than generally appreciated. We need basically open source medical research with large amounts of data collected independent of companies that develop drugs and other treatments. Given enough software and some group (could be mostly volunteers) to manage a web site to collect pet medical histories many others could analyze the data.

Pets are also great for research information collection because with pets privacy isn't a big consideration. My guess is most people won't mind having their pet's medical history made public if they can see a benefit for their current and future pets and for humans as well. Given public availability of the data a far larger number of people with requisite training in statistics, medicine (veterinary or otherwise), and biological sciences could do analyses and discover patterns in the data.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 March 03 08:39 PM  Biomedical Open Access Research

PacRim Jim said at March 4, 2012 3:45 AM:

Man's best friend, indeed.

Black Death said at March 6, 2012 7:39 AM:

Pets do provide a useful model for the study of novel therapeutic modalities. Unfortunately, unless the measured endpoints are "Alive" vs. "Dead," the results can be difficult to evaluate. For example, how do you ask a dog whether he feels better after his stem cell injections? "How do those hips feel now, Fido? Woof!"

I put "stem cells" and "arthritis" into Google and was surprised at how many veterinary clinics offering this service for dogs popped up. I don't know if this is good or bad, but there doesn't seem to be much going on with this stuff in humans, except maybe for some research studies. Clearly what's needed are some double-blind controlled trials in human beings, which should be pretty easy to do. If this thing really works, it could put the joint replacement industry out of business.

John said at March 6, 2012 6:54 PM:

It blows me away that alagebrium (ALT-711) isn't being used for old dogs. After all, the successful studies of its effects were with old dogs (and rats), and nothing indicates it wouldn't work in other short-lived animals. Maybe because it's off-patent?

Does anyone know a vet interested in life extension?

Fabrizio Lucente said at July 13, 2013 3:19 PM:

I'm deeply interested in Alagebrium, too, as I have a little dog that is beginning to turn old; I knew and was interested in this product since before, though.

And I'm surprised, too, as it could have been ( seemingly ) abandoned, rather than marketed in the pet / veterinary world!!

That would have met a huge basin of potential buyers -think about how many house dog and cats are living either in the EU and in USA, or elsewhere.

So, besides providing an useful, and *ethycally valuable* therapy for older pets, it could have meant, for the 1st, a massive return in money for the investitors - the opposite of their losing-all...!!!!

-For the 2nd, the financial returns would have allowed the concerned firm (Alteon) to afford further investiments, toward the pursuing of a similar product that would have been useful for humans too, at last...

-Finally, for the 3rd, it could have meant a sort of 'reconciliation' between animal-rights fighters (that blame animal experimentation), and researchers; as it would have become obvious that any achieved results could be useful for humans, *as well as for animals/pets*.

-Fabrizio Lucente

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