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Stem Cell Article & Video

A Washington Township veterinarian is one of the first in the region to perform a stem cell procedure to treat injured animals entirely in his office.

Dr. Brian Burks of Fox Run Equine Center performed the procedure Monday on Wilson, a 7-year-old quarter horse from West Virginia.

Since 2002, veterinarians who used stem cell treatments had to send the animal's tissue to a lab, where it was processed and returned days later.

In addition to being faster, the new technique costs about half of the previous procedure, according to MediVet America, the company that developed the process.

"This is a big breakthrough for everybody," Burks said.

Burks is the first equine veterinarian in Southwestern Pennsylvania to perform a stem cell procedure entirely in a veterinarian clinic, according to MediVet America. The technology has been available in the United States for about a year.

"We're the first company that gives the practitioner the ability to process the cell in clinic," said Gregg Stewart, a MediVet distributor.

"So many people are going to be able to do this because it's half the cost," Burks said.

Costs now range from $1,500 to $1,800 for horses and $1,200 to $1,300 for dogs, he said.

Burks started performing the procedure in November.

The cells used are the horse's adult cells, also referred to as repair cells or regenerative cells. They are not embryonic cells.

Wilson is a chestnut-colored breeding stallion with an injured knee on his right rear leg that prevents him from participating in horse shows.

Burks' procedure yesterday, using an infusion of stem cells, is expected to help Wilson walk without a limp. It's a procedure that takes between three and four hours.

The first steps are sedating the horse, drawing blood and making an incision into its hind to pull pieces of fat from its hindquarters. Next, both the blood and the fat are spun in a centrifuge to separate out the necessary parts.

Enzymes are added at various points through the process, and the materials are spun and filtered many times to continually separate the useful bits.

Each time, the cells at the bottom are saved to make up a platelet-rich plasma.

When the enriched plasma is complete, it's placed under an LED light to activate the stem cells.

It was injected into the horse's stifle, the equivalent of a human knee, and is expected to rebuild cartilage.

Using fat cells for the procedure is an advantage over using bone marrow because it's less painful, simpler and provides more of the necessary cells.

"We're getting more cells," Burks said. "We're making them very active."

The platelet-rich plasma is injected into the affected area and can become bone, cartilage or muscle.

Within two to three weeks, according to MediVet, most animals that had been in severe pain with restricted mobility are able to walk, run and jump again.

Horses, dogs and cats can undergo stem cell procedures.

MediVet America has sold more than 2,000 stem cell separation kits in less than a year, nationwide, according to company spokesman Bob De Witt.

"It's a natural way of trying to heal the body," Stewart said

Read more: In-office stem cell procedure used to treat injured animals - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review