Research At CSU Suggests Stem Cell Therapy Beneficial To Cats In Chronic Kidney Failure

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Chronic kidney failure, commonly known among veterinarians as chronic renal failure, is the number one cause of death in cats.   It is generally accepted that if a cat lives long enough, it is not a question of if he will develop kidney failure, but a question of when.   Many cats are genetically predisposed to chronic renal failure and will develop the disease before 10 years of age.

Chronic renal failure is a degenerative disease where there is progressive loss of functional kidney tissue.  As functional kidney tissue turns to scar tissue, the kidneys progressively experience a gradual reduction in key functions, including detoxification, concentrating urine, and regulating red blood cell production.

In the past, our only means of diagnosing chronic renal failure in cats was detection in general blood work with proportional elevations of two key kidney values in combination with unusually dilute urine seen on urinalysis.  By the time these circumstances manifested, however, 75% loss of functional tissue had already been lost.

With the advent of early screening with a blood test called SDMA and a change in interpretation of the key kidney value called creatinine (previously 2.1 was considered elevated, whereas now the American Feline Renal Society recognizes 1.6 or higher an indicator of renal disease), we are able to detect chronic renal failure well before there is substantial loss of functional tissue.

This has been very important for cats with chronic renal disease, where dietary modifications with prescription renal diets that limit phosphorous, sodium, and metabolic proteinaceous waste could be implemented to slow the degeneration and maintain quality of life.  While these dietary measures have proven invaluable for cats in active chronic renal failure, their role in slowing progression of early disease remains questionable.

While the renal diets are still an accepted strategy for slowing the progression of early chronic renal failure, new research at Colorado State University headed by Dr. Jessica Quimby suggests that stem cell therapy could play a key role in stabilizing degenerative chronic renal failure in cats.  Her research early on, however, indicates that once the functional tissue is gone, stem cell therapy will not restore the tissue and is not as powerful in turning back the clock on kidney health.  She states that her research shows the most significant benefit to stem cell therapy is with cats that are screened early and treated early to stabilize and halt the loss of kidney tissue before reaching the 75% loss threshold.

Still, the conclusions of Dr. Quimby’s research are still premature and she observes that stem cell therapy may still be quite helpful even for cats with more advanced stages of chronic renal disease.  She states, “Up until now, we’ve focused on cats with early stages of the disease with the hope of slowing disease progression.  We noticed that a few cats with worse stages in those studies were actually doing really well. We can’t ignore the possibility that stem cells could help those cats, too.”

With cutting edge technology from Tithon Animal Services that enables us to now harvest stem cells from peripheral via simple blood draw (the Colorado State study is using stem cells derived from fat which requires a minor surgical procedure for harvest) that my clinic is now utilizing there is a  subsequent dramatic reduction in cost and invasiveness for treatment.  With simple blood draw followed by simple IV infusion of the stem cells once they are processed (typically in 1-2 business days) there is really little reason not to attempt stem cell therapy in cats in early to advanced stages of chronic renal failure.

The biggest takeaway from this article with regard to stem cell therapy and chronic renal failure in cats is early screening of disease is key in optimizing treatment success.  Thus, by 8 years of age, every cat should be having at least once yearly blood and urinalysis screening for detection of disease and early intervention.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

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