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Historic stem cell surgery performed on paralyzed South Florida dog

Brando wheeled his way through the Hialeah shopping plaza parking Wednesday morning, barely able to muster more than a weak “woof.”

The muscles around his lungs are paralyzed, the result of a skin infection that spread to a disc in his back. The infection also led to nearly 80 percent of Brando’s leg muscles to atrophy, making him paralyzed from the middle of his back down.

But doctors are hoping that will all change, after an innovative two-part stem cell surgery performed Wednesday at Paradise Animal Clinic in Hialeah. It’s the first time the combination therapy has been performed in Florida.

“We know very little about [stem cell surgery]” said Dr. Jose Gorostiza, a veterinary orthopedic surgeon who was involved in Wednesday’s operation. But, he added, “it is super cool.”

Brando, a 9-year-old German shepherd named after Marlon Brando, has been paralyzed since January, said his owner, Miami cardiologist Manuel Bouza.

“Everyone in the family was super depressed,” Bouza said. “We thought he was going to die, originally.”

As veterinarian technicians shaved Brando Wednesday and tufts of his dark brown and black fur fell beside him, the dog looked ambivalent as the morphine kicked in.

Over the next four hours, Gorostiza; Dr. Jaime Pausa, owner of the clinic; and stem cell scientist Julieta Radiche performed the intricate surgery, which Bouza filmed.

“I was kinda relaxed, I knew [Brando] was in good hands,” Bouza said.

The procedure began when doctors taped Brando’s body and tied his legs to the operating table.

Gorostiza extracted some fatty tissue from Brando’s stomach. Radiche took 60 grams and processed it for 90 minutes to get the stem cells, which were mixed with platelet-rich plasma from Brando’s blood.

When the platelets explode, they release growth factors that when mixed with stem cells cause tissue regeneration, Radiche explained.

The stem cells were then delivered through a catheter along Brando’s spinal cord to a lesion on his vertebrae, the exact spot that is causing him to be paralyzed, Pausa said.

The process and instruments used for the stem cells were developed by Stemlogix, a Weston-based veterinary supply company that specializes in stem cell equipment and training, said Radiche, who works for Stemlogix.

Veterinary clinics can buy the all of the machinery needed and five kits of supplies for $9,000, Radiche said. Every stem cell kit after that will cost $600.

In about three to four weeks, Brando will get another injection of high-octane stem cells which will regenerate into whatever the doctors decide they need to form into, and that process will continue until Brando is healed, Radiche said.

“This work is so rewarding,” she added.

Treatments like the one Brando received Wednesday typically cost about $2,400, Bouza said.

Gorostiza said he sees regenerative medical procedures using things like stem cells as the future of medicine.

“There is a real difference between scarring and repairing,” he said.

Bouza said he first heard about the treatment from a YouTube video about a dog in Great Britain.

And he learned about Gorostiza from one of his own patients, who also had a paralyzed pet that Gorostiza cured.

As for Pausa, he and Bouza have been friends from high school, graduating from Miami Senior in 1980.

When Bouza asked Pausa to operate on Brando with Gorostiza, his friend agreed.

On Wednesday, Brando responded to pain tests to his legs, giving the doctors hope that he will benefit greatly from the treatment.

When Gorostiza clamped Brando’s foot to see his reaction Wednesday, Brando winced and looked back with a pained look — a great sign.

“It’ll be fun to see what the next two months are like,” Bouza said.

Follow @ben_brasch on Twitter.

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