World First Treatment Uses Stem Cells To Treat Gorilla's Arthritis

Stem cell treatment could lead to a new lease of life for animals with age-related conditions.

Holly Large - Editorial Assistant

Holly Large

Holly Large - Editorial Assistant

Holly Large

Editorial Assistant

Holly is a graduate medical biochemist with an enthusiasm for making science interesting, fun and accessible.

Editorial Assistant

Gorilla with its finger in its mouth

A gorilla was the latest animal to receive stem cell therapy for osteoarthritis.

Image Credit: gtb2003 via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In a first-of-its-kind procedure, scientists have successfully used stem cell therapy to treat arthritis in a gorilla.

At 46 years old, Liesel is Budapest Zoo’s oldest gorilla. Staff at the zoo noticed that her old age may have started to take effect when she began finding it difficult to walk on her left leg. Suspecting arthritis, the zoo teamed up with stem cell scientists to treat the condition.


Osteoarthritis is a progressive joint disease, where the cartilage protecting the ends of bones gradually breaks down and is not repaired by the body. This can lead to pain and difficulty in using the affected joints. In humans, the condition can be related to factors like joint injury or family history. As in our primate relative Liesel, it’s also associated with old age.

Current treatments for humans can’t reverse the damage caused by the disease, but recently, researchers have been using stem cells to treat osteoarthritis in a number of animals, including rabbits, sheep, and dogs

Liesel is thought to be the first gorilla treated with mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a type of cell capable of becoming a number of different joint-related cells, including those that make up cartilage. The team of scientists sourced the MSCs from a piece of fat tissue during an already-planned operation on N'yaounda, one of the zoo’s younger gorillas.

The tissue was then taken to a lab where the MSCs were isolated, purified, and cultured to create a treatment that was used on Liesel’s left hip and knee joints. In a statement, joint team leader Endre Kiss-Toth said that the procedure had provided “a novel treatment option for Liesel to improve her quality of life in her golden years,”


“We are now following her recovery closely, in the hope to see marked improvement in her movements and in the use of her osteoarthritis affected leg.”

With some animals in zoos living longer than their wild counterparts, the researchers hope to set a precedent for using stem cells to treat multiple zoo animal species with age-related conditions.

“The advanced husbandry and veterinary practices in modern zoos result in increased longevity in many species, including apes,” said Endre Sós, leader of the team at Budapest Zoo.

“Our task is to provide the best medical care and best quality of life for these animals, despite their age-related conditions. Stem-cell therapy hopefully brings in a new era in this field as well.”


Could this treatment be used in humans too? The team involved in Liesel’s stem cell therapy is now working on a preclinical research program with the goal of developing a similar treatment for human patients with osteoarthritis. 


  • tag
  • stem cells,

  • animals,

  • osteoarthritis,

  • primates,

  • arthritis,

  • apes,

  • gorillas,

  • zoo