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Injecting Stem Cells
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Stem Cell Laboratory
Stem cell research is a step closer to becoming stem cell medicine, thanks to a five-year study launched recently by the Center for Equine Health at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. The research, on stem cells and regenerative medicine in horses, will look at bettering our understanding of stem cells for repairing bone, tendon and ligament injuries in horses.
“It is hoped that the knowledge and experience gained from treating horses in these areas will provide sufficient knowledge to not only establish scientifically verified treatment protocols, but translate this technology into the human field,” says CEH director, Dr. Gregory L. Ferraro.
UC Davis research is focused on equine mesenchymal stem cells (adult stem cells found in bone marrow, blood, brain, and fat that can be induced to form nerves, cartilage, bone, tendon, and ligaments). In preliminary studies, all equine stem cell sources have shown the capability to form bone. “The therapeutic potential of mesenchymal stem cells in horses represents a major breakthrough in equine medicine, since fractures are often catastrophic, and tendon and ligament injuries are a serious problem.”
In clinical trials, the most common injuries being treated are “bowed tendons” (tendonitis of the superficial digital flexor tendon). Only 18% of racehorses treated with stem cells for a bowed tendon saw a recurrence in the injury, compared to 56% of those treated with traditional bandaging, stall rest, and hot/cold packs. Relief is also being seen in horses with deep digital flexor tendon injuries in the pastern and hoof capsule.
“Anecdotally, the results have been promising,” says Dr. Ferraro, also referring to pending trials using localized stem cell injection as an alternative for those injuries with otherwise low treatment success rates, such as suspensory ligament disorders in the hindquarters.
Stem cell therapy will become stem cell medicine once research has also identified treatment dosages, timing and frequency. Five to ten million cells are currently recommended for early, effective treatment, and their ability to repair and regenerate damaged tissue may lead to future treatments for other equine disorders, such as laminitis and exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. As UC Davis research unfolds between now and 2012, owners facing a leg injury in their horse can remain optimistic that stem cells, like the cavalry, look ready to ride to the rescue.
-- L.A. Pomeroy