The Tamil Nadu Veterinary Sciences University (Tanuvas) is planning to establish an animal stem cell bank in Chennai, capital of the southern Indian state.
Tanuvas has submitted a proposal to the department of bio-technology, ministry of science and technology, seeking Rs 15.3 crore to put up the facility. "The file is pending. But we hope we will get to start the project by mid-2009," says Tanuvas vice-chancellor Dr P Thangaraju.
Once set up, the Tanuvas' bank will be the first of its kind in India, though several developed countries, like the United States, offer veterinary stem cell therapy.
At a time when human stem cell therapy is in an experimental stage, the university plans to offer some certified therapies, besides starting research in collaboration with the Japan-based Nichi-In Centre for Regenerative Medicine (NCRM). The centre would store adult animal stem cells drawn from bone marrow and fat (adeponectine) tissue for research on corneal, spine and untreatable fractures, besides degenerative diseases, says Dr Thangaraju.
Though restrictions on clinical trials on animals are far less as compared to humans, Tanuvas has decided against using embryonic cells because of the ongoing moral debate on the use of human embryos.
Scientists hope that the establishment of the animal stem cell bank will lead to advanced treatment for pets for diseases such as arthritis.
Dr Jestin Williams, principal investigator, Tanuvas, who will be in charge of the stem cell bank, says a small sample (about two tablespoons) of a dog's fat, drawn from its belly, would be given to NCRM to isolate regenerative cells. The cells would be returned either in ready-to-inject syringes for therapy or research or in vials for storage. "The stem cells will then be injected directly into the animal's joint or any other area that needs treatment," he says.
Scientists will also be working on developing cell lines, which could replace ailing cells in the animal's body. "We will work on methods to reprogramme adult stem cells back to embryonic cells. Scientists in Japan have already been able to do this," says Dr Williams.
Tanuvas will also provide options for animal owners to store stem cells for future use. "Though there has not been a great breakthrough in cord blood, many people have invested in storing it for future use. That's when we realised that there could be an equally good response for companion species, such as dogs and horses," adds Dr Williams.
Senior veterinarians are enthused by the Tanuvas proposal. "Though we are almost on par with developed countries when it comes to treatment and management of diseases, we are way behind other countries in research," says a senior veterinary surgeon.
Experts believe that this will, besides bringing in a new perspective to animal healthcare, provide them vital clues for human trials as well, Pushpa Narayan writes in Times of India.
"This is the only field where experiments on animals are taking place after they have been conducted on humans. But in research of this sort, we always learn. It will be interesting to see how the university progresses with its research. Perhaps there will be something for us to learn while we work with human cells," says Dr Rama Shanker Verma, associate professor, stem cell and molecular biology lab, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.