By Josh Moniz
ST. PETER — Utilizing an innovative new medical procedure, the Nicollet County Sheriff's Office hopes to get a loyal officer back on his feet: Draeco, the 9-year-old German Shepard who serves in the K-9 unit.
The Andover Animal Hospital selected five animals this month, including Draeco, to participate in the clinic's first implementation of a new stem cell treatment.
Because stem cells treatments can be an effective option, their use has gained the attention of veterinarians in recent years. The procedure is intended as a safe one-time treatment, though it can repeated if necessary for an animal. It is takes roughly six weeks for the treatment to restore an animal's abilities.
Nicollet County Deputy Paul Biederman, the human partner in the K-9 unit, said Draeco has suffered from decreased mobility and endurance in recent years. A K-9 unit typically only serves until the dog is 8 to 10 years old.
He said he is hopeful the procedure will improve Draeco's quality of life and extend how long the dog can serve in the department.
Few Minnesota veterinary clinics offer the procedure. Unlike the controversial embryonic stem cells, the operation extracts stem cells from the animal's own fat. The procedure involves sending the fat cell samples to a specialized clinic in California, which extracts the stem cells and sends back a sterilized batch. Finally, the animal is sedated and the stem cells are injected directly into the affected joints.
Dr. Joanne Kamper, a veterinarian with the clinic, said the stem cells work by replacing the damaged tissue in the joints. She said they also release chemicals that reduce inflammation and recruit other nearby stem cells to assist in the process.
Draeco completed his operation Oct. 16. Biederman said it will still take several weeks for Draeco's treatment to take full effect, but he said he has already seen some small improvements in the dog's abilities.
The procedure usually costs $2,500 to $2,800. But, Draego's operation was funded through donations from the clinic and private donors.
"We're hopeful this will give him a new chance and really help him out," Biederman said.