When I was at my continuing education conference last year, I sat in on a few lectures about stem cell therapy and subsequently wrote a post about what I had learned. I was (and still am) excited about the prospects of treating animals with stem cell therapy, but felt a bit deflated when the subject of cost was brought up (it’s in the thousands). At this time, stem cell therapy is financially out of reach for most pet owners.

There are other options, however. Platelet rich plasma is available at a fraction of the cost of stem cell therapy.

Platelet rich plasma has been used widely in human and equine medicine, primarily to promote the healing of musculoskeletal injuries (e.g., tendons and ligaments), but it is now making its way into companion animal medicine. The process is relatively simple:

  • A blood sample is drawn from the patient needing treatment.
  • Using special equipment, the blood is spun down until the plasma (the liquid portion of blood) and platelets can be separated from white and red blood cells. The plasma now contains a much greater concentration of platelets than does “normal” blood.
  • The platelets are activated via the addition of thrombin, calcium, or other substances/procedures that stimulate them to release their growth factors (chemical mediators that stimulate the healing process).
  • The liquid is injected into the injured area and/or given intravenously.

After injury, platelets and other blood components normally rush to the scene and start secreting growth factors that essentially tell the body, “Hey, we need collagen, fibroblasts, bone, or some other substance needed for the healing process over here.” By concentrating these factors in platelet rich plasma and injecting them directly into the site of injury, we give a boost the body’s natural ability to heal. When platelet rich plasma is given intravenously, the platelets are attracted to injured tissues and can travel to multiple sites or to locations that are difficult to inject directly. Intravenous injections of platelet rich plasma have a similar, though probably somewhat attenuated, effect in comparison to direct injection at the site of the injury.

I am not aware of any studies that compare the efficacy of platelet rich plasma and stem cell therapy in animals. In fact, both treatments are in their infancy and more research needs to be done into their effectiveness, safety, and best practices in veterinary (and human) medicine, but when an owner is faced with a suffering pet and a dearth of good alternatives, I understand why they turn to these options.

Because it is less expensive and not as invasive as stem cell therapy, platelet rich plasma offers a nice middle ground for those who want to tip-toe into the world of regenerative medicine. Have any of you had experience with treating a horse, dog, or cat with platelet rich plasma?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Tyler Olsen / via Shutterstock