Stem cell breakthrough treats dog hip problems by regrowing cartilage

As a dog ages, it may develop arthritis — and, depending on the breed, it may experience particularly severe issues with its hip joints, potentially requiring a resurfacing implant. In the future, this process may be far less invasive while offering better results than conventional treatments. Key to the newly detailed process are stem cells.

The new research comes from North Carolina State University; it focuses on using stem cells to regrow the cartilage in a dog's hip joints. Such a development would not only help dogs who get treated early enough to prevent a more extreme intervention but could also pave the way for similar cartilage regrow procedures in humans who have worn-out joints.

Cartilage is a thin layer between joints that allows them to glide smoothly — and when something damages that cartilage, the joints become incredibly painful as there's nothing to help the bones move smoothly. Artificial materials are currently used to address this issue, but the overarching goal is to simply regrow the lost cartilage.

The new development is described as an implant featuring a combination of 3D printed structures and a textile that can then be 'seeded' with the patient's own stem cells. In the study involving dogs, the cartilage grew on the implant for several weeks; surgery was then performed to put the implant in the dog's hip ball joint.

The implant slowly dissolves over the healing period, eventually leaving behind only the cartilage and a more functional hip. When compared to the control group, dogs that received this implant were found to have returned to their baseline (normal) pain and function levels. The researchers described the implants as performing either equal to or better than a full joint replacement.

The same type of procedure may one day also be used with humans to prolong joint function and avoid the potential pitfalls of artificial materials.