Last Update: 8/15/2011 11:09:00 AM
Stem cells give dog chance at normal life
Procedure aims to help mistreated pit bull grow new foot pads
A pit bull that suffered severe burns when it was left outside on a rooftop in the scorching heat for 10 hours last month has been given a second chance at a normal life due to a first-of-its-kind stem-cell treatment.
A Spring Township veterinarian donated his time to perform the experimental treatment using foreign-source cells to regrow the pads on the dog's paws, which were burned off on the hot roof, according to an official from the Animal Rescue League of Berks County.
Chris Shaughness, the ARL spokesman, said the young pit bull, dubbed Bernie by the shelter's staff, was brought to the shelter July 19 after a Reading police officer found the dog stranded on the roof of a building in the 700 block of North Front Street.
When the dog was brought to the shelter, an examination found he also had burn marks on his spine and his nipples. Officials believe the dog received those burns by lying down on the hot roof, trying to take weight off his painful paws.
"I don't think I've seen anything that bad in 25 years," said Dr. Boyd Wagner, veterinarian and owner of the Wyomissing Animal Hospital. "They were severe, third-degree burns."
Wagner said the shelter had brought Bernie to the animal hospital for treatment of his burned-off pads.
Wagner came up with an idea for helping Bernie: regrowing his pads with stem cells. The veterinarian had been working with Celavet Inc., a California-based biotechnology firm conducting stem-cell research in horses, cats and dogs.
Animal stem-cell research has been around for a while, but Bernie's treatment was the first case of using another animal's stem cells that have been programmed to grow into specialized types of cells, Wagner said.
"The stem cells increase the re-epithelialization at a faster pace and a more uniform pace," he said, describing the natural process of growing new skin during wound healing.
In short, the pit bull would be injected with stem cells to re-grow his pads at a quicker rate.
The procedure, performed Aug. 4, was the first of its kind for a canine and required special permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Wagner said.
"This is a phenomenal story, to attempt to grow his paws," Shaughness said.
Law enforcement officials are still looking for the pit bull's owner. Crime Alert Berks County is offering a reward for information leading to the owner's arrest,
Shaughness said Bernie has been staying at the ARL's boarding kennel while recovering from surgery.
"We're trying to find a foster home for him," she said. "We don't know the outcome of the treatment yet so we don't want to adopt him out until he's truly recovered."
But while Bernie rests and recovers from the burn surgery, he will be taken back to the animal hospital periodically for progress checkups, Wagner said.
The veterinarian said it's unknown how long it will take to know if the experimental procedure was successful.
"But he seems to be happy," Wagner said. "He's a tough little guy."
Contact Rose Schneider: 610-371-5038 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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