Many moons ago, when I was still in vet school, I worked at a racehorse training barn. I learned many cutting edge techniques working at this farm. One of them was a crude form of “auto-sanguinous” therapy. This basically meant drawing 60cc of blood from a horse’s jugular vein, and then immediately injecting that blood into the hip muscle of the same horse. We performed this procedure on horses with chronic issues that did not resolve with normal medical approaches.
The most memorable case we successfully treated with this procedure was a horse with anhydrosis, a condition that prevents normal sweating. Once we had used the therapy described above, the horse was able to sweat normally within a few days. After seeing this poor horse struggle in the heat all summer, the change was very dramatic. None of us at the farm had any idea why this therapy worked, but in hindsight I suspect it was the beginning of what we now know as regenerative therapy.
What is Regenerative Therapy?
Regenerative therapy is a collection of biological techniques that use the body’s natural ability to heal. When tissue heals with the help of regenerative therapy, the results are more organized and structurally sound. Without the help of regenerative therapy, normal body healing often results in the weak structure of scar tissue, which is prone to reinjury.
The goal of regenerative therapy is to heal injured tissue by new cell growth that is as close as possible to the original injured tissue, rather than with scar tissue.
Regenerative Therapy for Healing Horses
Regenerative therapies can include the use of stem cells, as well as the use platelets or blood serum that has been concentrated in the components needed to combat inflammation. Let’s look at each of these options:
Plasma Rich Plasma or PRP
This product is made by collecting a blood sample from a horse and then spinning or filtering the blood to produce a concentrated source of platelets. Platelets are the blood cells responsible for blood clotting. These cells are then injected into an area of injury creating a scaffolding for new cells to build into. This matrix also holds regenerative components of the blood in an area longer than normal. PRP is used primarily for healing of ligaments and tendons but it is being tried as treatment for joint injury. Wound healing is also aided by PRP therapy.
Autologous Conditioned Serum or ACS
This product is produced by taking a blood sample from a horse and incubating it with specially designed beads to produce anti-inflammatory agents. Specifically the goal is to create more of the serum component that will bind and neutralize an inflammatory chemical known as interleukin-1. This anti-inflammatory product is known as an interleukin-1 receptor agonist protein or an IRAP. The resulting fluid is then injected back into the horse, most often directly into a joint.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cells are special cells in the body that have the unique ability to become virtually any type of cell possible. Stem cell therapy is one the most exciting forms of regenerative therapy for healing horses. The hope is that stem cells will be able to actually transform into, or “become,” the type cells needed to replace the injured ones.
The two current marketed options for stem cell therapy for horses include cells harvested from fat (adipose tissue) or bone marrow.
Bone marrow concentrate, or BMC, is collected from either the sternum or iliac crest of the horse, spun down, and then re-injected into the injured area. BMC also contains platelets, which help keep the healing cells and other components in the injured area. Stem cells collected from bone marrow must be cultured in a lab for several weeks to generate enough cells to inject, so this procedure is a two-part process.
Stem cells derived from adipose tissue do not need to be cultured, so they can be collected, processed in a central lab, shipped back to the submitting vet, and re-injected immediately. Another option is to pre-purchase an “in-house” kit to process the stem cells at the vet’s clinic, allowing the vet to inject them right back into the horse.
Stem cell therapies are extremely promising, but not yet totally understood. It is not known if the injected stem cells become the needed tissue or if they somehow stimulate other stem cells in the area to regenerate the damaged tissue. Experts also believe that the fluid containing the stem cells has concentrated anti-inflammatory mediators that are helpful to the overall healing process. Stem cells are being used for tendon and ligament injuries as well as bone healing. Researchers hope that stem cells will also be useful in such serious conditions as laminitis, sub-chondral bone cysts and skin lesions.
A brand new regenerative therapy is being studied that involves injecting the fluid component which has been separated from the actual stem cells, and injecting this product under the skin of the horse. This fluid is believed to stimulate the production of stem cells by the horse’s own immune system. These cells will then go wherever they are needed in the horse’s body. I think of this therapy as the Legend or Adequan of stem cell therapy. It gives a systemic effect and is less invasive than joint or tissue injection. I am pleased to be involved with the field trials of this exciting new product.
I am looking for horses to treat with this new product. At this time the supply of product is very limited so I want horses that have health conditions or undiagnosed lameness that has not responded to other treatments. If you have a horse that fits this description please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nutritional Support for Healthy Stem Cells
As always, I prefer to use the least invasive therapies possible, which is why I often recommend nutritional supplements that support a horse’s healthy stem cells. Supplements like these not only help your horse’s body continue to produce adult stem cells, but also protect the current stem cells from the negative effects of aging. This stem cell support supplement has proven to be a very effective supplement to support a horse’s stem cell production and healing ability. It is helpful in both maintenance and therapeutic approaches.
In some cases these therapies can be used together or in a sequence of healing options. Regenerative therapy has sure come a long way and the future is indeed promising.