In a groundbreaking experiment, researchers have administered an arthritis treatment using stem cells to a renowned gorilla named Liesel. This innovative treatment, utilizing mesenchymal stem cells derived from bone marrow to regenerate damaged cartilage, could hold promise for human use in the future.
Liesel, a 46-year-old gorilla residing at a zoo in Budapest, has garnered attention for her past experiences, including undergoing surgery to remove a tumour. Suffering from leg pain, believed to be linked to arthritis, Liesel was selected for this pioneering therapy by scientists from the University of Sheffield.
While similar procedures have been successfully conducted on animals such as cats and dogs, Liesel is the first primate to undergo this specific stem cell treatment. The research team analyzed Liesel’s major joints and used mesenchymal stem cells to target alterations in her hip and knee joints.
The stem cells were donated by N’yaounda, a young female gorilla who underwent a minor operation in 2022. These cells were purified and cultured, creating a cell suspension that was frozen until Liesel was ready for treatment.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive degenerative joint condition that currently lacks a reversal mechanism for damaged cartilage. Researchers have primarily focused on symptom management rather than addressing the underlying disease.
Stem CellX, a regenerative medicine company, collaborated with Budapest Zoo to provide the stem cell treatment for animals. Stem CellX founder and University of Sheffield Professor Endre Kiss-Tóth led a preclinical program to develop a similar stem cell treatment for human patients.
The success of Liesel’s treatment has paved the way for a human version of the therapy, currently under development. Professor Mark Wilkinson, leader of the Clinical Orthopaedic Team at the University of Sheffield, expressed enthusiasm for the potential of this research to provide solutions to arthritis-related pain and suffering in both animals and humans.
Honorary Associate Professor Endre Sós, leader of the Zoo Team, emphasized the importance of advanced veterinary practices in modern zoos and expressed hope that stem cell therapy could usher in a new era of medical care for aging animals like Liesel.