Breakthrough stem cell therapy may reverse life-threatening conditions in dogs

SAKAI, Japan — Just like humans, man’s best friend deals with all sorts of chronic and degenerative conditions as they age. For dogs however, scientists have fewer ways of reversing life-threatening illnesses compared to human patients. Now, a team in Japan has successfully developed a technique which creates new stem cells from a dog’s blood. Their study opens the door for new therapies which can regenerate a dog’s body just like stem cells do in people.

In humans, these “baby” cells have the potential to grow into a variety of specialized cells, an ability called pluripotency. After scientists transplant these stem cells into a patient, they guide their differentiation into the specific kind of cells which completes their task. The new cells can then regenerate damaged tissues, reversing the effect of various diseases. While stem cell research for humans is a widely studied topic, researchers say little work is done with pets.

The new study, led by Associate Professor Shingo Hatoya from Osaka Prefecture University, focuses on “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs) in canine blood samples. Study authors say iPSCs are a type of stem cell which can be “programmed” from a developed cell. Scientists can do this by introducing specific genes into the cell. The genes code for specific proteins (transcription factors) which trigger the change from a developed cell into a pluripotent stem cell.

Another good thing about iPSCs is they multiply rapidly, providing a sustainable supply of usable stem cells for medical treatments.

“We successfully established an efficient and easy generation method of canine iPSCs from peripheral blood mononuclear cells” Dr. Hatoya in a university release.

The study authors call this a breakthrough in veterinary science. Hatoya hopes in the near future, “it may be possible to perform regenerative medicinal treatments in dogs.”

Finding the right combination for dogs

This isn’t the first time scientists have experimented with iPSCs from canine blood cells. Researchers say these attempts used viral vectors to deliver the stem cell-triggering transcription factors.

In the new study, the Japanese team tested a different combination of factors to create pluripotency. Most importantly, researchers say they had to control how the reprogrammed cells multiplied in the host.

Scientists use viral vectors, which encode these transcription factors, to “infect” cells and convert them into iPSCs. Unfortunately, since these vectors merge with the host’s genetic material, these pluripotency factors can actually cause tumors if they are transplanted into a dog.

To avoid this, researchers created “footprint-free” stem cells using a special type of viral vector. This particular vector generates iPSCs without mixing with the host’s genes. It can also be automatically silenced by “microRNAs” in the cells. The OPU team grew these cells in a special environment which contained a “small-molecule cocktail” that enhances pluripotency. The results successfully produced cells which developed germ layers — the basis of all organs.

Can dog stem cell treatments lead to cures for humans?

Study authors say their findings provide a clear path to easy stem cell treatments for dogs. However, they add that their research may also have a ripple effect in the human medical world as well.

“We believe that our method can facilitate the research involving disease modeling and regenerative therapies in the veterinary field,” Dr. Hatoya says. “Dogs share the same environment as humans and spontaneously develop the same diseases, particularly genetic diseases.”

The team believes finding a cure for diseases in man’s best friend may also open the door to curing illnesses still plaguing mankind.

The study appears in the journal Stem Cells and Development.