Seeds and Stem Cells

Today, I’m musing about seeds and stem cells. As I declared last week: ‘Animals are not machines or computers!’ There are two attributes that animals have that machines or computers do not have: 1) animals are endowed with a capacity to heal themselves and 2) animals can reproduce. I’m wondering if our knowledge of plants might help us understand the mechanics of these two miraculous capacities?

By way of background, you should know that I have had the great privilege of learning about and working with stem cells since 1980. The day after I received my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, I started trying to grow feline blood stem cells in tissue culture dishes. It took me a while, but I succeeded in accomplishing this goal. Our team at the Veterinary School at Colorado State University (CSU), performed the first blood stem cell transplant in a cat in 1983. The cat’s name was Miki Moto. In 1988, the “Miki Society for Companion Animal Research”, an opportunity to memorialize pets while contributing to research that helps all companion animals, was established in Miki’s honor. See

Miki was a Siamese cat from Cody, Wyoming, who had a rare fatal inherited disease. The transplant prevented Miki’s premature death. What our team at CSU saw in Miki was astounding.

Aggie (top panel) and Miki–before (middle panel) & 160 days after (bottom panel) receiving blood stem cells from Aggie

I suspect that each of the members of CSU’s Marrow Transplant Laboratory will never look at the miracle of Life (or the mystery of Death) in the same way ever again. Miki’s success allowed us–read “we were able obtain research grant awards”–to go on to perform over 130 blood stem cell transplants in cats.

Zoey (wearing her snazzy brace)

Over this past year, I have gotten back into working with stem cells, thanks to the generosity of the Regenerative Medicine Laboratory/a former student of mine at the University of California at Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine The stem cells we have received from Dr. Owen’s team were adult, derived-from-their-own-fat, stem cells. Dr. Ziegler has now made a number of injections of these “adult autologous mesenchymal stem cells” into the joints of two of my family’s dogs, “Zoey” (Nancy’s daughter’s dog) and “Sophie” .

Sophie post autologous mesenchymal stem cell injection

It has long been known, we have all witnessed the wondrous potentiality of seeds. Jesus noted how a tiny seed, the mustard seed, “grows up, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the sky can lodge under its shadow”. The herb referred to here is generally considered to be black mustard–a plant that can grow up to 9 feet tall.  Tiny seeds are the source of all plants. Tiny sperm and eggs are what allow all mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, or a sturgeon to reproduce.

So how are seeds and stem cells similar? An animal is a vibrant churning, living & dying, community of trillions of cells.  Take what goes on with blood cells. Your 26 pound dog has 6 trillion RBCs. Your dog will eliminate 52 billon old RBCs and produce 52 billion new RBCs today. The source of the newly born RBCs are blood stem cells. Scientists have now identified all sorts of stems cells, in addition to blood stem cells, we now know of intestinal-lining stem cells, skin stem cells, brain stem cells, and–the type we injected into Zoey and Sophie–mesenchymal stem cells. All stem cells are like seeds.

Here in the USA the use of stem cells to treat animals is ahead of the use of stem cells to treat humans.  A number of veterinary practices in Wisconsin are currently offering this service. While it might seem odd that veterinary medicine is ahead of human medicine, there is a long tradition of veterinary medicine leading the way. The hypodermic needle, the surgical techniques for performing a cesearean section come to my mind. Hey! While I’m thinking of it, over the last 40 years, every Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine save one (the one awarded in 1983 to the famous maize-infatuated scientist, Barbara McClintock) has depended on data from animal studies.

No machine or computer has such the dynamic living turnover of its inner components as has your dog. I challenge you, my dear reader, I challenge anyone on this wonderful living spaceship that is our planet, to create a machine or a computer that will someday be the grandmother of new full-of-potential innocent self-healing baby machine or computer.

Published in the Waupaca County Post East newspaper, 11/22/12






One response to “Seeds and Stem Cells”

  1. […] Today, I’m musing about the difference between living things and dead things. I wonder if I have been somehow transformed? I can see that I’m now looking at everything in my life through a new set of lenses. I’m using a new measuring stick. I am asking myself “Is what is alive or is it dead?”.  I can see my transformation was incubating in two consecutive Musings: Healing the American Animal & Seeds and Stem Cells. […]

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