Liesel becomes the first gorilla to have stem-cell therapy for arthritis

Liesel becomes the first gorilla to have stem-cell therapy for arthritis
Liesel receiving the novel stem-cell therapy
Liesel receiving the novel stem-cell therapy
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Liesel receiving the novel stem-cell therapy
Liesel receiving the novel stem-cell therapy

In a world first, Budapest Zoo’s gorilla matriarch Liesel has received stem-cell therapy for her arthritis. An international team including University of Sheffield professor Mark Wilkinson, an expert in human arthritis treatment, has used mesenchymal stem cells to treat Liesel’s left hip and knee joints, which have been causing the aging primate pain in her golden years.

Liesel, who was born in captivity in Frankfurt Zoo on April 15, 1977, is now five-10 years beyond the lifespan of a gorilla in the wild. While captive animals tend to live for much longer than their wild counterparts, it also means they’re more susceptible to age-related degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis.

“The advanced husbandry and veterinary practices in modern zoos result in increased longevity in many species, including apes,” said Endre Sós, chief vet at the Budapest Zoo. “Our task is to provide the best medical care and best quality of life for these animals, despite their age-related conditions. Stem-cell therapy hopefully brings in a new era in this field as well.”

Osteoarthritis, which results from the irreversible erosion of the cartilage in joints, has no cure and is usually treated by managing the painful symptoms rather than the condition itself.

Stem-cell therapy aims to regenerate the damaged cartilage, which would ultimately alleviate symptoms. The mesenchymal stem cells that Liesel received were isolated from the fat tissue of another young female gorilla, N'yaounda, who underwent a planned surgery last year. A team at Stem CellX, which specializes in stem-cell treatment for animals, then isolated, purified and cultured the cells, which were kept frozen until required.

“I was delighted to be part of the team doing this ground-breaking work and having the opportunity to treat Liesel’s arthritis,” said Mark Wilkinson, a professor at the University of Sheffield.

While the procedure was a success, the researchers are closely monitoring Liesel to see if she has the same benefits as the dogs and horses that previously received similar stem-cell therapy.

“We are now following her recovery closely, in the hope to see marked improvement in her movements and in the use of her osteoarthritis affected leg,” said Endre Kiss-Toth, a professor at the University of Sheffield and founder of Stem CellX.

There is also hope that the procedure will move onto Liesel’s close relatives.

“We are currently developing a similar treatment for humans,” said Wilkinson. “This work is in its very early stages but hopefully will lead to a real solution for patients to the pain and suffering that arthritis causes.”

Source: University of Sheffield

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