Veterinary Regenerative Medicine Overview


Overview of Veterinary Regenerative Medicine

(Tendon and Joint Injections of Hyaluronic Acid,

Stem Cells, and/or Platelet Rich Plasma)


coming off a fram contact

Even though it is still young, the field of regenerative medicine is showing great promise for treating many musculoskeletal conditions that we couldn’t before.  Already we are seeing great successes.  As with every new field of science, it is also rapidly changing.  Each year, protocols and techniques evolve as we learn more.

Regenerative medicine involves isolating the body’s own tissue repair mechanisms and then placing them in high concentration at the site of injury.  The goal is to accelerate healing and generate new healthy tissue.  Below is a brief overview of the regenerative medicine options available for treating musculoskeletal issues in dogs.

 Hyaluronic Acid Joint Injections

Duffy after regionals

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a key component of healthy joint fluid and cartilage, and is depleted in arthritic joints, which leads to worsening arthritis, which causes it to be more depleted, which worsens the arthritis…. There are effective oral and subcutaneous injection products that help boost HA levels, but direct injections into the joint achieve the highest level of HA replenishment.

HA can be used on its own for early or mild arthritis, or combined with steroids for more advanced and/or painful conditions.  Although we frequently use HA injections for severely arthritic joints, the best effects are seen when it is given earlier in the disease process.

Although HA injections into the joint are helpful, especially when combined with steroids, the effects don’t last as long as they do with PRP injections.

 PRP (platelet rich plasma)

he joy twoPlatelets are the body’s front line soldiers for repairing damaged tissue.  They clot the wound to stop bleeding, then release a number of growth factors to initiate the healing process.  By collecting a sample of blood from your dog, concentrating down the platelet fraction and then re-injecting this platelet rich plasma (PRP) where it is needed, we see a number of positive effects.

PRP accelerates healing and decreases inflammation associated pain.  It also magnifies the benefits of stem cells when the two are mixed together.

When injected into arthritic joints, it gives pain relief for 80% of patients (which is the same as either HA or stem cell injections) that lasts about 9 months (which is much longer than HA injections, and almost as much as stem cell injections).  The pain relief provided is as good as, if not better, than that provided by combining HA with steroids.

When injected into injured tendons, PRP appears to accelerate repair.  In the dog world, most of the research on tendon injury remains unpublished, and involves shoulder injuries.  To see a specific example of how well PRP combined with stem cells works, click here.

Compared to stem cells PRP is a less invasive and less expensive technique (about 1/3 the cost of stem cell injections).  Depending on the joint being injected, the entire process can happen with only mild sedation, or even no sedation in some dogs.

 Stem Cells


These cells were collected from the bone marrow and the stem cells are being concentrated for injection

These cells were collected from the bone marrow and the stem cells are being concentrated for injection

Stem cells were one of the first regenerative medicine tools to be used.  Mesenchymal stem cells are very different than embryonic stem cells.  We only use mesenchymal stem cells.  Our bodies constantly undergo some degree of damage and repair, and stem cells are a big part of that repair.  They can be found in many tissues, and once stimulated, will begin to grow new healthy tissue.  They are found in high levels in the marrow and periosteum of bone, and play a big role in fracture repair (along with platelets).

In veterinary medicine, we commonly harvest stem cells from two locations: fat or bone marrow.  Fat derived stem cells  are typically sent to an outside lab for processing which often means a second anesthesia for your pet, but bone marrow origin  stem cells can be processed and re-implanted immediately.

When MSCs were first injected into joints, we were hopeful that they would regrow healthy cartilage and reverse arthritis.  Unfortunately, they do not.  They do however provide good pain control in most patients for 11 months on average (see PRP above).

However, when injected into damaged tendons, stem cells do regrow normal tissue, as well as resorb scar tissue and mineralization.  It is an excellent tool for tendon repair, and combined with PRP is the treatment of choice.  It can also be used to accelerate the healing of broken bones.


Regenerative medicine is fast becoming a key tool for addressing and decreasing the progression of arthritic pain and for treating damage tendons, especially for shoulder and groin injuries.  If you would like to have your pet assessed and possibly treated using these techniques, please contact one of the hospitals where Dr. Lane works.

Click on this case study to see an example of how stem cells were used to treat a tendon injury.

 Summary of different regenerative medicine options:

HA +/- steroids
  • Pain control and prevent further degeneration of arthritic joints
  • Less expensive than PRP and stem cells
  • Less invasive than stem cells
  • Better alternative than daily anti-inflammatories
  • Effects do not last as long as either PRP or stem cells
  • Pain control and prevent further degeneration of arthritic joints
  • Facilitate healing of mildly damaged tendons
  • Less expensive than stem cells (about 1/3 the cost)
  • Effects on arthritis last much longer than HA, and almost as long as stem cells (9 months)
  • Better alternative than daily anti-inflammatories
  • Does not fully heal badly damaged tendons as well as stem cells do
Stem Cells
  • Pain control and prevent further degeneration of arthritic joints
  • Facilitate healing of badly damaged tendons
  • Can regenerate and heal badly damaged tendons
  • Provides joint pain relief for 11 months on average
  • Better alternative than daily anti-inflammatories
  • More expensive than HA or PRP
  • Collection process requires a general anesthetic


Posted on in Non-surgical Therapy, Regenerative Medicine, Uncategorized