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Stem cells helping beloved Houston Zoo pig battle arthritis

Friday, November 18, 2011

Houston medical researchers are doing a lot of work with adult stem cells to treat heart disease and other problems.

But stem cell treatments aren't just for people; a shot of stem cells may end up extending the life of a beloved Houston Zoo animal.

Remley, the Houston Zoo's popular portly Asian pig, has been feeling her age. Severe arthritis has caused the female babirusa's joints to become stiff and painful.

"There's really nothing else we can do to help her at this point," Houston Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Lauren Howard said.

So Remley had a high-tech treatment with stem cells!

"We're looking at improving her quality of life and her mobility and hopefully extending her life as well," Dr. Howard said.

Dr. Howard, who worked alongside the stem cell company InGeneron for the procedure, took a little of Remley's fat, which she won't miss, to get stem cells.

"We just extract them, concentrate them, wash them and in the same setting re-administer them -- inject them in your heart or your knees or wherever you need them," Dr. Eckhard Alt, who works with InGeneron, said.

In Mexico, InGeneron's stem cells saved a Bengal tiger from being euthanized. He was hit by a building during a hurricane and could only scoot on the ground like a seal. The Animal Protection Agency of Mexico shot the video as the tiger got InGeneron's stem cells in his knees and hips.

"He's doing great now; he gained 50 pounds and he's running around and enjoying life," Dr. Alt said.

Hailey, a Houston golden retriever, walks better five months after her stem cell treatment.

In January, they will begin human studies in Germany. Using the same procedure for people with osteoarthritis in their knee, for wounds that won't heal and for bones that won't heal.

And Remley? Well, four weeks after getting shots of stem cells from her own fat, she is walking much better.

"Overall we're really happy with her progress," Dr. Howard said.

And expect to hear a lot more about medical progress in animals and humans using stem cells from fat.

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