Evergreen Park vet using stem cell therapy to treat animals
By Carmen Greco, Jr. Correspondent December 13, 2010 10:02PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
An Evergreen Park veterinarian has become one of the first in Illinois to successfully use stem cell therapy in the treatment of animals.
Dr. Joe Whalen, a veterinarian at LePar Animal Hospital, 3811 W. 95th St., has treated three dogs with various arthritic and bone maladies or joint damage since early October.
The results can be measured in steps.
That’s literally, according to Pam Burmistrz, owner of an 11-year-old Rottweiler named Gaby.
“She wasn’t walking downstairs before,” Burmistrz said, “but after the stem cell replacement, she seems more alert, and she can walk downstairs now. She was more manageable, and the swelling in her, you didn’t notice as much.”
Gaby had surgery on both hind legs several years ago, and her arthritis had worsened as she aged.
But now, co-owner Charles McCorkle said, she’s like a new dog.
“She’s started to trot on her walks for the first time in years,” McCorkle said. “She’s gradually lengthening her walks and even jumps down from the bed on her own, something she was not able to do previous to the treatment.
“It’s amazing how much better Gaby is in such a short period of time.”
Whalen said the pool of acceptable candidates for the groundbreaking therapy is limited to older animals with arthritis or bone problems but that testing is under way to treat animals who have had strokes or have other heart conditions.
“There’s other potential uses that have not been worked out yet or understood,” he said.
Whalen extracts healthy stem cells from another of the animal’s body parts and injects the healthy tissue into the diseased or damaged tissue. The process takes about 90 minutes.
What is unique about Whalen’s procedure is that he does all the work in-house and it can be done in one day.
In the past, stem cell tissue would have to be sent to a lab, sometimes in another state. The viability of the stem cells often is compromised from extensive periods outside the body.
“Another great benefit is that the cost of the onsite stem cell preparation is far less than traditional methods, so it can be offered to many more patients,” Whalen said.
But Whalen said the average cost of the treatment — $2,100 — still is something many pet owners cannot afford.
“It’s not a highly expensive procedure, but it’s not cheap, either,” he said.
It’s believed that Whalen was the first veterinarian in Illinois to treat a dog with stem cell therapy in-house in one day.
Jason Griffeth, chief operating officer of Stemlogix, a Florida-based company that provides stem cell preparation kits for veterinarians, said Whalen was the first to use the kit.
The company trained Whalen on the use of the in-house kits.
“The veterinarians are very excited because stem cells don’t like to be outside of the body,” Griffeth said.
He said stem cell therapy has been used for some time now but that the big difference is the timeframe involved. Instead of shipping the stem cells to a lab for processing, doctors can perform the procedure in 90 minutes with the kits.