OVC Testing Stem Cell Treatment on Injured Horses

February 20, 2008 - News Release

Researchers at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) are offering stem cell therapy to repair injured tendons and ligaments in horses with the aim of researching the possibility of similar treatment in humans.

"Since the makeup of a horse's leg is similar to that of humans, the research may be transferable," said biomedical science professor Dean Betts.

Betts and PhD candidate Thomas Koch have spent two years developing a way of isolating, expanding and differentiating stem cells for their potential use in enhanced tissue healing. This research was recently published in BMC Biotechnology and Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy.

The researchers have teamed up with OVC orthopedic surgeon Antonio Cruz to provide bone marrow-derived stem cells to use in horses suffering from tendon and ligament injuries.

"It's cutting-edge technology, and we are uniquely equipped to offer all components of the service under one roof – from diagnostics to cell collection and culturing to treatment and followup without transporting the samples outside of our building," said Cruz.

Given sufficient cases, this stem cell therapy and followup investigation could potentially add weight to anecdotal evidence suggesting that cell-based therapy is beneficial to the healing of injured or damaged tissues, he said.

Using stem cells from bone marrow, the research team recently treated a horse with lameness in the front leg. The bone marrow was extracted from the horse's sternum, and researchers separated the stem cells and multiplied them in the lab. The cells were then resuspended in bone marrow supernatant and injected into the horse's leg.

The whole process took just over two weeks, and the research team is currently monitoring the horse's condition.

"So far the horse is showing improvement," said Betts. "This is especially promising because we were dealing with a long-term chronic injury."

Forms of stem cell treatment are being offered privately, but by providing a consistent in-house approach to all of these cases from initial diagnosis to bone marrow aspiration, stem cell isolation and expansion, treatment and followup monitoring, this research team is trying to scientifically assess the efficiency of this new treatment.

Betts cautions that there's no absolute way of knowing at this point whether it was the stem cells or bone marrow supernatant that made the difference in the horse's improvement, whether it was simply time and rest or whether it was a combination of all factors.

"The reason we're doing this is because these clinical cases have few other treatment options and because valuable knowledge may be gained that will help in future controlled clinical trials here at OVC."

Antonio Cruz
Clinical Studies
519-824-4120, Ext. 54039

Dean Betts
Biomedical Science
519-824-4120, Ext. 54480

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, l.hunt@exec.uoguelph.ca or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982, d.healey@exec.uoguelph.ca

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