Stem Cell Therapy Benefits Racehorses

Many race horses suffer injuries to their legs, of which tendon injuries, knee and elbow injuries are the most common. The healing process can be painful and often places a horse on the sideline for months at a time. Although these injuries do heal, ligaments and tendons tend to lose their strength during healing, and scar tissue is weaker than the original tissue. When it comes to cartilage, the damage is often irreplaceable and the tissue in cartilage takes an extremely long time to heal. Research and tests in regard to stem cell therapy have shown many positive results, and could assist horses in recovering to their full strength.

Stem cell therapy research, as a regenerative medical course of action, has been used by many veterinarians over the years. The research into these methods is not new, but there have been improvements and advances in the studies. Generally, stem cells are harvested from bone marrow. When these stem cells have been used to heal tendons and ligaments, the results have been nothing less than extraordinary. In research done by a company called Vet-Stem, these regenerative methods were tried on approximately three thousand horses that suffered from severe and chronic injuries to their joints, tendons and ligaments. The result was that seventy-six percent of horses with ligament ailments returned to working condition, fifty-six percent with joint injuries also returned to work at full capacity, while twenty-six percent returned to work, but at a lower work level. When testing non-race horses, the result was even more astounding; with eighty-nine percent of the hundred and seventy nine horses treated returning to their previous performance levels.

Doctoral candidate, Thomas Koch, and Biochemical Sciences Professor, Dean Betts, have been doing research in replacing cartilage tissue with stem cells that are harvested from the blood of the umbilical cord. Firstly, the method of retrieval is non-invasive to the horse. Due to the fact that very few horses give birth without a human present to ensure the safe delivery of the foal, someone is on-hand to retrieve the blood. Also, the stem cells taken from the blood are believed to be “younger” and therefore more compatible for the research done by Betts and Koch. Because their research is based on isolating the cells and being able to differentiate them, the “younger” cells are able to be separated in additional divisions and therefore create a variety of tissue types. These cells also stand less change of being rejected and it is hoped that these studies will lead scientists to improved ways to reconstruct and heal tissue and cartilage.

Many race horses and non-race horses have responded well to the developments in stem cell therapy, and as the joints in horses are very similar to that of a humans, this technology might serve the public well in the future. But for now, scientist and veterinary specialists are happy to be helping the gracious animals they love and admire.