Stem cells are immature cells with the potential to become any type of connective tissue cell (bone, tendon, muscle, etc.) and their use in equine veterinary medicine is becoming increasingly more common. They can be used to aid in treatment of many different injuries, but the most common use is in tendon and ligament injury.
The goal of this therapy is to improve the healing strength of the tissue and decrease the chance of re-injury. Stem cells can be harvested from bone marrow, fat, umbilical cord blood, and selected tissues.
Bone marrow-derived cells are harvested sterilely by your veterinarian from either the sternum or the tuber coxae (pelvis region). Once the sample is collected, there are different processing methods. The most simple method is direct injection of the bone marrow at time of collection.
Another alternative is the use of ‘patientside’ devices that can concentrate the number of stem cells for same-day injection. Sending the sample to an off-site lab for culture is the method that results in the highest concentration of stem cells. This process takes approximately 3 weeks and is the most expensive of the three. These cultured cells can also be stored for later use.
Adipose (fat)-derived cells are typically harvested from the area surrounding the tail head. The sample can be concentrated and returned fornext day administration, or sent to a lab to be cultured (similar to that of the bone-marrow sample).
The most common use of stem cells in horses is injection into a tendon core lesion. The cells are usually implanted at about 2-3 weeks after injury under ultrasound-guidance. It is common to perform multiple injections depending on the healing of the lesion.
Stem cells have also been used as a joint injection for osteoarthritis or soft tissue lesions within the joint, as well as in regional limb perfusions for lesions within the hoof, including laminitis. Research in several areas is ongoing and shows promise for use in horses.
Talk to your veterinarian about stem cell therapy or contact us with any questions.