Stem cell therapy has huge potential as a healing treatment for injuries and organ damage.
Embryonic stem cells are derived from early stage embryos and have the ability to differentiate into all adult cell types. Embryonic stem cells behave in a consistent way under a microscope but are much less predictable when injected into the body. They can offer some benefits for research but their use is controversial and they are not useful for actual treatments.
Adult stem cells reside in post-fetal animals. Certain stem cells can become red or white blood cells; others can become bone, tendon, ligament, cartilage, heart, liver, or nerves. Sources of adult stem cells include bone marrow, fat, brain tissue, and muscles. Of all the tissues, fat yields the largest numbers of stem cells that become bone tendon, etc., while bone marrow or umbilical blood yield more stem cells that will become red or white blood cells.
Types of Stem Cells
- Autologous stem cells are those derived from the same animal. These are best for transplanting since there is no concern about them being rejected.
- Allogenic stem cells are from a donor of the same species. Since stem cells do not have the standard cell surface markers that would trigger immune response, these cells can potentially be used without fear of rejection by the host tissue.
- Xenogenic stem cells come from a donor of another species, such as a pig. Although one would expect these cells to be rejected, because of their unique characteristics they can survive, in some cases, when injected into the body of another species.
How Do Stem Cells Work?
Stem cells produce over 30 types of growth factors and tissue chemicals that stimulate healing. Stem cells help recruit other local and systemic stem cells to focus on repairing damaged tissue. They are also active in immune modulation to promote or suppress T-cell function.
Under ideal conditions stem cells would respond to injuries and healing would occur. Factors that affect stem cell response include the age of the animal, the fitness of the animal, and the level of free radicals in the body (free radicals damage all cells, including stem cells).
Stem Cell Therapy in Horses
Injuries to the ligaments in a horse's lower leg are notoriously difficult to heal. Stem cells harvested from the injured horse's own fat can be injected directly into the area of ligament damage to stimulate healing with less scarring, which decreases the chance of re-injury.
Another promising stem cell therapy is based on increasing the numbers and activity of the animal's own stem cells using nutrition. Researchers have identified nutrients that stimulate and cause the proliferation of stem cells. Based on this research, Simplexity Health has developed a product called Stemplex (TM) that contains green tea extract, wild blueberry, the amino acid carnosine, blueberry extract, vitamin D, and blue-green algae. I have been using this product on my own horse, who has chronically contracted and sore heels. Within just a month I am seeing improvement in his gait.
Providing nutritional support for the body's own stem cells is always a good option, which can be supplemented by using targeted injections of harvested stem cells. These injections are especially useful when nutritional support is insufficient for healing or when the injured area, such as ligaments in a horse's lower leg, has poor circulation.
Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. She has authored several books and publishes the monthly newsletter, Holistic Horsekeeping. Contact: Madalyn Ward DVM, 11608 FM 1826, Austin, TX 78737. 512-288-0428 , www.holistichorsekeeping.com , www.yourhorsebook.com
Copyright © 2007 by Madalyn Ward, DVM. Adapted with permission