Stem Cell Therapy

Equine-Mesenchymal-Stem-cells2Stem cells have been injected into injured ligaments for many years now and are becoming increasingly popular as a treatment for joint disease as well. The idea is that by providing a large population of cells at the site of injury that are not yet committed to becoming any one tissue, you encourage them to become what is needed for repair. There are different ways to obtain stem cells for use in horses. One is to take bone marrow from the horse and inject it directly into the damaged tissue straight or after some modification. Another is a commercially available product called “A-cell” in which the source of stem cells is fetal pig bladder. A-cell comes in an injectable form used for tendon injuries and as a sheet used for treatment of wounds (A-cell is currently off the market but reports say it will soon be back). We have been using a 3rd source for the past several years with very promising success, a company called Vet-Stem. The stem cells used are not of embryonic origin but come from the patient’s own adipose tissue. By using the patients own fat, rejection becomes almost a non-issue. Apparently fat is a storage reservoir for stem cells which is handy because it is readily accessible. The fat is typically harvested through a surgical incision made above and to the side of the base of the tail. This fat is stored in a special container and sent overnight to a lab in southern California where the stem cells are separated out, suspended in saline, and sent back to the veterinarian again by overnight mail. Ultrasound guidance is then used to inject the stem cells directly into a torn ligament or tendon. Alternatively, the stem cells may be directly injected into a badly damaged joint. Initial research with fat derived stem cells in horses has been encouraging. Clinically, the ultrasound scans of tendon or ligament injuries is amazingly improved 60 days after injection and we feel like more horses are going back to their previous level of work with less recurrences.

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