Stem cells and Asthma


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Stem Cell Therapy and Feline Asthma


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by Lorie Huston, DVM on March 15, 2014

Feline asthma is a common disease. It is a lower airway disease that results in changes (inflammation and constriction) of the airways that ultimately leads to difficulty breathing for the affected cat. Cats with asthma will often cough and/or wheeze, and may exhibit exercise intolerance as well. An acute asthma attack can occur without advance warning and can be a life-threatening event.


Unfortunately, over the long term, remodeling of the airways of an asthmatic cat may cause a permanent decline in lung function, resulting in a poor response to therapy. Currently, there is no approved therapy that is consistently able to slow or reverse this remodeling in cats. However, there may some new hope in that area in the form of stem cell therapy.

This study, featured on the Winn Feline Foundation blog, looks at the effects of stem cell therapy on cats with feline asthma and the resultant airway changes. The report documents long term decreases in airway inflammation, airflow limitation, and remodeling in cases of feline chronic allergic asthma after treatment with mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).

In this case, intravenous allogeneic mesenchymal stem cells (e.g., stem cells from an unrelated feline donor) were used. Specific changes (bronchial wall thickening and the overall density of the tissues) in the airways were measured at 8 months and 12 months following stem cell injection.

“Interestingly, there was significant improvement in airway remodeling noted at month 8 in the cats receiving stem cell compared with placebo therapy. The MSC-treated cats had significantly less thickening of the walls of their lower airways. In addition, the density of the tissues in MSC-treated cats was significantly less than that observed in placebo-treated cats. This effect was not observed at month 12. Thus, the effect of MSC therapy is likely not sustained long term and repeated infusions over time may be needed. Overall, this study provides exciting evidence to indicate that MSC infusion may be beneficial in blunting the changes in airway remodeling noted in cats with chronic asthma.”

Though it is a bit disappointing that the positive effects of stem cell treatment are not longer lived, these findings nevertheless represent a potentially successful treatment even if repeated treatments may be necessary to sustain the effect. Of course, we do not know at this point whether repeated injections would continue to be effective.

Another potential concern is that of cats suffering from heartworm disease rather than feline asthma. As the two diseases are often difficult to distinguish clinically, it is thought that some cases attributed to feline asthma may actually be caused by feline heartworms instead. What effect, if any, stem cell therapy would have on these cats remains unanswered.

Obviously, further study is needed. But stem cells are rapidly becoming a treatment alternative for many different disease conditions. It may very well be that feline asthma is one of the conditions that can be added to that list.

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About Lorie Huston, DVM
Lorie Huston is an accomplished veterinarian, an award winning blogger, a talented author and a certified veterinary journalist. She is available for writing assignments, blogging and social media consultation, and SEO strategy.

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