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:
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.
A report by Emily Singer for Technology Review brings a whole new twist to the open access movement for information. Needed: a heart defibrillator maker who will let you capture sensor data from the implanted device.
Hugo Campos is a man on a mission. He wants access to the data being collected inside his body by an implanted cardiac defibrillator. He believes that having this information could help him take control of his health—for example, by helping him figure out what triggers his frequent attacks of abnormal heart rhythms. While not life-threatening, they cause dizziness, fainting, and chest pain. But he says device makers are reluctant to make that information available, mostly for commercial reasons.
More data pooled together means more insights. Just as some people (e.g. Razib Khan) have released their genetic testing data into the public domain so could people with sensors embedded in their bodies. In fact, this will happen. Lots of people will stream real time sensor streams from their bodies to the internet for anyone to capture, watch in real-time, and analyze.
Collection of biological data used to be the sole preserve of scientists doing research. But with sensors and communications networks getting so cheap bottom-up biological and biomedical research is already starting as a result of increasing numbers of individuals uploading their test data web sites. Already this trend is yielding published research with valuable findings.
I expect we will be able to watch live feeds of assorted beating hearts all over the world. Gamers will let spectators watch their hearts beat and their brain waves change as they compete in online game tournaments. People will put sensors on their pets just as they put video cameras on them.