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Research / Discovery

Vets study stem-cell therapy for chronic hepatitis

June 26, 2013
By Jennifer Dimas

Colorado State University veterinarians are for the first time investigating the use of stem-cell therapy to treat chronic liver disease in dogs, a novel approach they hope could lead to successful treatments for dogs and people.

This fluffy Havanese pup, named 'Tank,' is a patient with chronic hepatitis at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.New alternative treatment

In a new study, veterinarians are looking at treatment of chronic hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, with mesenchymal stem cells derived from excess fat tissue of healthy adult donors. These stem cells have the power to develop into other cell types, and may offer a new alternative in the fight against chronic hepatitis, said Allison Bradley, a veterinarian in small-animal internal medicine at CSU’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

“Without treatment, most cases of chronic hepatitis will advance to cirrhosis, liver failure and death,” Bradley said. “Treatment for chronic hepatitis often requires lifelong immunosuppressive and liver support medications, which are used to slow progression of the disease, but do not cure it.” 

Studies have shown that stem-cell therapy may combat liver disease in several ways. Stem cells have anti-inflammatory activity, inhibit cirrhosis, and help prevent liver cell death. They also contribute to liver regeneration.

First studies

Although preliminary results in laboratory animals and humans with liver disease are quite promising, these are the first studies in dogs with chronic hepatitis.

Dr. Allison Bradley, left, assesses Tank at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital with help from veterinary students Jessica Felgenhauer and Allison Colter.CSU is conducting two studies for dogs with liver disease. One will examine the use of stem cells as a new therapeutic option for dogs with chronic hepatitis; the second will track the movement of the stem cells to the liver in dogs undergoing a liver biopsy as part of diagnostic testing.

Seeking patients

For the first study, CSU veterinarians are seeking dogs with chronic hepatitis diagnosed via liver biopsy; they will be screened for eligibility. The research team is recruiting two types of patients: those who are newly diagnosed and have no clinical signs of liver disease, and those whose disease is progressing despite traditional therapy. If eligible, dogs will receive a series of stem-cell treatments and ongoing monitoring.

For the second study – tracking the movement of stem cells – CSU is recruiting dogs with non-infectious, non-cancerous liver disease who are undergoing liver biopsy as part of their diagnostic workup for suspected chronic hepatitis. The patient will receive a single stem cell treatment 24 hours prior to liver biopsy, and then the team will attempt to locate the stem cells within the liver sample.

Help support the study

Donors may help support the studies by contributing to a recently established CSU fund, called the Frida and Friends Legacy for Liver Disease Research. Frida, the namesake, was a shelter dog adopted by the family who set up the fund. Money from the fund specifically supports research into small-animal liver disease. To donate, visit the Frida and Friends Legacy giving page.

To inquire about a dog’s participation in studies examining the therapeutic potential of stem cells, contact Allison Bradley by email or phone at (970) 297-4017.