VetCell Therapeutics is happy to announce that the first clinical oriented paper has been published with our collaborator Dr Jijun Hao at Western University of Health Sciences, College of Biomedical Sciences. The paper, “Phosphodiesterase 4D, miR-203 and selected cytokines in the peripheral blood are associated with canine atopic dermatitis,” published in PLOS ONE on June 21, 2019, discusses potential biomarkers in the blood for identifying atopic dermatitis (AD) in dogs by analyzing serum. The aim of this study was to provide insight on the complexities of canine AD and to examine the immunological pathways of the disease. The trial is in its final observation phase and will continue for the next six months as the patients are monitored for clinical outcomes.

The data published was collected during the early phases of the AD project we are conducting in collaboration with Western University of Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine. A peer reviewed publication is an important validation of the work we conduct and is a great example of the type of teamwork is needed to accomplish this major goal in science.

In addition to the Western U lab and clinic, the VCT biomanufacturing team, Dr Charlie Dong from The Animal Dermatology Clinic in Pasadena and Ana Ramirez, a graduate student from Cal Poly Pomona were crucial to the study’s success. Also helping on this project was Dr Yvonne Drechsler, an Immunologist, who reviewed all the immunology concepts of the project. Dr Jijun Hao lead the effort in conceptualizing the hypothesis and analyzing the data for the manuscript. Everyone working together over the past year resulted in the first published paper achieved by this high-level group of experts.

The idea behind the paper originated from the notion that no simplistic method to diagnose atopic dermatitis in dogs exists. Traditionally, atopic dermatitis is a diagnosis of exclusion and relies on patient history, clinical examination, allergy testing and diet trials. All of these tests, reliable in their own right, have limitations. At times, the clinical results may not be very clear and warrants more tests. Given these difficulties, we had the idea to look at blood samples for certain biomarkers associated with atopic dermatitis. Furthermore, this data may serve a greater purpose in helping to conceptualize a potency assay which is very important to support our mesenchymal stem cell product.

Atopic dermatitis is a complex immune-mediated disease. It affects not only dogs, but also has closely-related variants on the human side commonly referred to as eczema. In this clinical model we are studying how the disease acts in a naturally occurring model in canines. This approach could bring insight on how to formulate a future cell therapy for human medicine. Using MSCs for treatment delves into the root of the disease to change the way the local and systemic immune cells are behaving. Without getting into much detail, current views are that atopic dermatitis is a result of an imbalance between the Th1 and Th2 (CD4+ T Helper subsets) cells. They induce pro-inflammatory cytokines and create a hypersensitivity response.

With something as complex as this, the first critical step is accurately diagnosing it. This is where the biomarkers come into play, as they are becoming a useful tool in the diagnostic world because they provide a measurable indicator of a certain state of disease. In general, a biomarker is anything that can be quantified and used as an indicator for a particular disease. Biomarkers can be specific cells, molecules, genes, gene products, enzymes or hormones. Even though biomarker use has grown on the genetic profiling side, they have been relied upon in the field of medicine for decades. Just think about temperature measurements, blood pressure, cholesterol, or creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (for monitoring kidney disease) as current examples. One must keep in mind and understand the relationship between any given measurable biomarker and relevant clinical endpoints.

Patients with atopic dermatitis and other pruritic types of disorders would benefit greatly if a minimally-invasive and reliable diagnosis method existed. Tracking and measuring serum cytokines, enzymes and microRNA are a good first step in this direction. More work still needs to be completed on biomarkers before it can be considered clinically relevant. By conducting this study, we had the unique opportunity to analyze real patient samples and collect valuable data. We hope these results provide a solid stepping stone as we and others continue to study this disease model, and continue to work towards improving the quality of life for dogs that suffer from AD.