Pilot study eyes new uses of stem cells to treat dilated cardiomyopathy


Gainesville, Fla. - A first-of-its-kind pilot study involving Doberman pinschers that present with early stage dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) uses adult stem cells to mend the animal's heart activity.

Gainesville, Fla. — A first-of-its-kind pilot study involving Doberman pinschers that present with early stage dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) uses adult stem cells to mend the animal's heart activity.

With $72,000 in support from the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, Amara Estrada, DVM, chief of the University of Florida's Veterinary Medical Center cardiology service, and her research colleagues plan to evaluate up to 15 dogs with DCM. The condition, where the heart is enlarged or weakened, occurs more frequently in Dobermans than in other dog breeds; this particular breed experiences a markedly high mortality rate. It is not uncommon, according to Estrada, for this breed to die within six months.

"Dobermans have the highest prevalence of any breed and also the most devastating course ... so this was the most important and emergent group to focus on," Estrada says.

To date, the only treatment available for dogs with this condition is medical therapy, such as various drug treatments (e.g., ACE inhibitors, diuretics). Usually, the best any medical treatment can do for the dog is sustain its life for a brief period, Estrada adds.

Early data from Estrada's study will be collected so that her research team can pursue large-scale clinical trials for Dobermans with DCM. Additionally, the research can be considered as a translational model for DCM studies in humans. Already, Estrada has been using the stem-cell technique in the UF College of Medicine on a pig infarct model (model for human disease).

Estrada is no stranger to stem cells and their potential in understanding diseases.

"My first experience was with pigs as a model of human ischemia/coronary disease and collaboration with human cardiologists. The cells are being maintained and grown within the College of Medicine across the street so they are collaborating on this clinical trial with us," she says.

Research has shown that stem-cell transplants are safe and effective in mending left ventricular pump function in animal and human experimental patients with chronically infarcted or ischemic hearts.

How the process works

Stem cells are grown from a donor fat biopsy, and then the cells are cultured, amplified and purified. "We also add growth factors to help them live longer once transplanted into the heart. The cells are delivered from a catheter from the neck whereby the cells are then transplanted into the heart through a coronary vein," Estrada explains.

All dogs in the study will undergo anesthesia; researchers will inject cells via catheter into the coronary sinus. There will be follow-up checks at one month, six months, 12 months and 18 months.

If the new technique is effective, it may result in a less expensive treatment option when compared to open heart surgery.

The procedure, which requires a minimally invasive cardiac catheterization, ultimately could be available to veterinary specialists some day, Estrada says.

Down the road, researchers at UF's College of Veterinary Medicine may expand these studies to include other dog breeds in hopes of achieving similar and beneficial results. As for the research's immediate goals, Estrada says the primary focus is to "improve cardiac function and keep dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy from succumbing to the disease."

"(Stem-cell use) is a field that is exponential in its growth right now and one that is soon to be readily available to veterinarians' clientele, but veterinarians must make sure that they are using current techniques and collaborating with veterinary cardiologists in order to assure that they are getting the best advice and most current treatment recommendations," she advises.

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