As a practicing, board-certified veterinary surgeon and former medical researcher, I read with interest your Nov. 12 article on stem cell therapy for Tobo the German shepherd ("Healing veteran's best pal"). Among the current treatment options for severe canine hip dysplasia, total hip replacement is the gold standard with three decades of clinical research behind it, but it is expensive (over $4,500) and carries risk of major complication.
What may we say concerning the stem cell procedure? Not much.
We have but one small trial (18 dogs) of minimal duration (90 days). Funded and led by a stem cell technology company, the study rests under the cloud of a major conflict of interest. Even more, the data are not compelling - while some veterinarian-assessed lameness scores were reduced following treatment, dogs remained clinically painful and dysfunctional, and their owners failed to observe significant improvement.
Even if the patient experiences improvement in hip function soon after stem cell injection, there is little reason to believe it will be long-lasting, as the underlying structural disease remains.
The bottom line is that stem cell injection is an unproven treatment for canine hip dysplasia, and that, combined with its large price tag (over $1,800), makes it most difficult for this surgeon to justify.