Remarkable Strides in Treating Diabetic Pets using Cell-Based Therapies

Remarkable Strides in Treating Diabetic Pets

With an estimated 1 in 100 dogs and cats contracting diabetes in their lifetime, nearly 1.5 million pets will suffer from diabetes at some point. Currently, the only option for treatment is twice daily insulin injections, placing enormous stress on pets and their owners. Unfortunately, in a large number of cases, euthanasia is chosen instead of pursuing treatment options.

Islet transplantation offers a solution for pets suffering from diabetes. Islets contain the insulin producing cells from the pancreas, among other important cells, that regulate the level of glucose in the blood. When the islets are destroyed, a patient becomes diabetic and requires insulin injections. With more than 30 years of research, islets have been isolated from the pancreas of qualified human donors and transplanted into diabetic recipients, returning blood glucose levels to normal within days and maintaining these levels with 40-80 percent success for years. As this therapy was developed for humans, much of the pre-clinical testing was conducted in dogs, as dogs with naturally-occurring diabetes are quite similar to human type 1 diabetics. In fact, in over 250 peer-reviewed research publications 1000s of dogs have been the recipients of islet transplants. At Likarda, we asked the question: if so many dogs have received islet transplants as part of research studies, why hasn’t this become an option for diabetic dogs?

Through years of development and working with our various partners, we are in the process of bringing islet transplants to dogs. Islets are isolated from the pancreas of qualified canine donors through our partner, Cheri’s Hope, a pet organ donation network. These islets are then microencapsulated with a protective hydrogel to prevent the immune system from destroying the transplant. The microencapsulated islets are then transplanted via injection into the belly of a diabetic dog, removing the need for exogenous insulin.  We expect our pilot program to become available in early 2017.

This shows the uniformity of Kanslets and our 3D production of spheroids. 

For diabetic cats, the process is much harder. Minimal prior research exists, so we’re developing the process ourselves from scratch. We are looking at a variety of sources of cells from native islets isolated from donor pancreata, to insulin-producing cells derived from stem cells.

When cells from a donor are transplanted into a recipient’s body without protection, they are attacked by the immune system as being foreign. In order to prevent this attack and protect the cell transplants, standard therapy of systemic immunosuppressive drugs have been administered. In contrast, we microencapsulate (or coat) our cells in a hydrogel material that blocks the immune system from attacking the transplanted cells.

Future Cell-Based Therapies for Companion Animals
Approximately 70 percent of American households have pets, equivalent to more than 160 million cats and dogs in the United States. Most of these pets are regarded as family members, with owners spending $50 billion per year on their animal companions. Of that, veterinary care accounts for $14 billion.

Similar to Human Organ Donation, Pet Organ Donation Can Help Save Lives

Organ donation in humans is a widely accepted practice. Thanks to human organ donors, thousands of transplants occur each year. When organs can’t be used for transplantation, they are used in research laboratories, helping to find the next breakthrough in human health.

The same could be true for animals. Donating the healthy organs of euthanized companion animals can have a tremendous impact on finding cures for the many conditions facing our pets.

That’s why we established a first-of-its-kind pet organ donation bank / procurement service for participating veterinarians and pet owners in the Kansas City area. Donor pet organs are critical for Likarda’s research to find cures for conditions that impact companion animals.

If you would like more information about pet organ donation, please visit


Compassion is as Much a Part of Our Culture as Research
As scientists and researchers strive for advances in animal health care, collaboration and partnerships drive discovery and are the keys to success. Building meaningful partnerships with local animal health organizations is ingrained in each one of us and is a part of our culture. Our work helps to improve pets’ lives so it’s natural to align ourselves and donate our time and resources to support local animal organizations that share the same mission.

Great Plains SPCA is a no kill animal welfare organization that serves annually more than 35,000 needy pets and drives change in our community through innovative programs that promote adoption, outreach, veterinary care, and a better life for pets and the people who love them.

Wayside Waifs is proud to be a part of Kansas City’s no kill community and is committed to finding homes for all adoptable pets with no time limits for animals in their care. Wayside is the largest pet adoption campus in Kansas City, placing over 5,400 animals each year in homes.

Our Mission of State Line Animal Hospital is to integrate the whole pet. We focus on holistic and traditional health. We combine both Eastern and Western medicine to restore and maintain your animal’s strength, vigor & well-being. Alternative veterinary medical therapies may include acupuncture, chiropractic, and Chinese herbal medicine. Taking the holistic approach means that we are taking the body, mind and spirit into account when formulating a treatment plan.