Quadriplegic Donkey Walks Again with Adult Stem Cells

Published: December 15, 2010  |  Source: frcblog.com
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Eli the donkey provides another example from the animal world of the success of adult stem cells. On May 13, 2010 Eli was attacked by a stablemate twice his size. The trauma led to swelling of his spinal cord, and rapid progression of weakness in his front end and hindquarters. The veterinarians treating Eli also got the opinion of Dr. Mike Kistler of Cortez, Colorado, a senior member of the American Society of Neuroradiology with more than 25 years of experience in human spinal trauma. Dr. Kistler noted that “In a human, a comparable injury would have been sustained by diving into shallow water, and the majority of those injuries would have a poor prognosis, with paralysis.” Kistler’s interpretation of the MRI results was that Eli’s spinal cord had suffered significant bruising and circulation damage, and that the prognosis was poor. Because an equid’s overall health declines when it cannot stand, he felt Eli most likely would not survive his injury or its complications. By May 24, Eli lay paralyzed in all four limbs and could not lift his head; he’d developed pneumonia and was unable to maintain his body temperature, even with supportive care, and was on the verge of death.

But Eli was under the care of Doug Herthel, D.V.M., who is a pioneer in the veterinary use of adult stem cells. He has treated more than 5,000 horses with good results, though the majority have been for tendon and ligament injuries. He opted to treat Eli with adult mesenchymal stem cells. With the little donkey’s life hanging by a thread, there was no time to harvest and process stem cells from Eli’s own bone marrow, so Herthel used donor adult stem cells that had been banked from the bone marrow of a Thoroughbred racehorse. Within 48 hours, Eli improved and began to show some movement. Eli received additional treatments of the adult stem cells.

Herthel says:

“Mesenchymal stem cells can selectively target injured tissue and promote functional recovery. They can be attracted to damaged tissue by chemical signals released from damaged cells.”

On July 31, attendants found Eli standing in his stall. According to Herthel:

“We couldn’t figure out how he got up. So we went back and looked at the [intensive care unit] video, and we saw him get up on his own. It wasn’t pretty, but he got up, and that’s what counts. After that third treatment, he just got better and better, and his muscle mass came back.”


Eli was released to his owner on September 15. Herthel said he expects Eli to enjoy a normal existence, barring unanticipated complications later in his life.

While this is only one case, Herthel says he won’t hesitate to use the adult stem cell procedure again. Maybe if some politicians and scientists weren’t such… donkeys ideologically lusting for embryonic stem cells, people could experience some of the same benefits.

by David Prentice