Over the course of the three races at this year's Triple Crown, the odds are 10 to 1 that at least one horse will suffer a career-ending injury. "Orthopedically, the horse is a disaster waiting to happen," says veterinarian Bob Harman. "They're so big--a 1,000-pound animal on little toothpick legs--and they're working at high capacity." Harman is also the CEO of Vet-Stem, a California company that treats racehorses with stem-cell therapy. Since he founded Vet-Stem in 2002, his company has treated 4,141 horses for soft-tissue injuries such as tendinitis and muscle contusions, and he says 70 to 80 percent have healed completely.
Doctors generally reserve stem-cell therapy, which draws on those cells' unique ability to regenerate and form into nearly any tissue, for patients with major medical problems, such as cancer and spinal-cord injuries. But veterinarians are "in a unique position to try stem-cell treatments for quality-of-life problems," says Thomas Koch of the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College. Koch concedes, though, that there are many unanswered questions about veterinary stem-cell treatments, that the science isn't fully understood, and that companies like Vet-Stem are working ahead of the evidence. "There is a demand from animal owners," he says, because "what has been available wasn't working very well."
There is little doubt that stem-cell therapy could reshape orthopedics in animals and people alike. After all, Harman says, "when a Super Bowl linebacker tears a ligament, it's the same deal as with horses." The basic tissue structure in the legs of both species is similar, and the kind of soft-tissue injuries that Harman is studying in horses are also common in humans: About 80,000 people tear their ACL every year, and several thousand miss a few days of work a year because of tendinitis.
The treatment itself is not complex. Veterinarian David Frisbie of Colorado State University has rehabilitated more than 1,500 horses' tendon and ligament injuries with mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in the body's connective tissues and help regenerate cartilage, tendons, muscle and bone. Some of these cells transform into new, healthy tissue, while others seem to be "acting as policemen, coordinating healing," Frisbie says. For a study published in 2009, he took bone-marrow samples from 61 horses suffering soft-tissue injuries, extracted the stem cells, and allowed them to proliferate in the lab. He then took the concentrated cell formula and injected it into the horses' injured tendons. Nearly two years after treatment, 85 percent of these horses, all of which had been failed by previous rehab programs, were healed.
Frisbie's tests build on other encouraging results. In 2007, Italian researchers published a study of two groups of horses with tendinitis. Among the 11 horses that received stem-cell injections and returned to racing, nine remained injury-free a year later. Of the 15 control horses that received a more conventional course of rehab, all reinjured themselves within a year.
Veterinarian Sean Owens, director of the two-year-old Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at the University of California at Davis, is performing his own, very specific, set of stem-cell rehab trials on horses, modeled after what tests on humans might look like. "Our clinical trials are proof-of-concept that researchers working on human stem cells can cite," Owens says, adding, "so we can move toward trials on humans."
It is good to see this work continue, with all the controversy in human stem cell research. It seems that organ generation is the goal to make perfect replacement parts like kidneys, pancreas, or anything.
I would like to try out a treatment like this myself.
If I get a horse mask could I get in on these trials?
isn't this the same procedure that was already used on big fat Bartolo Colon (http://www.wired.com/playbook/2011/05/stem-cells-athletes/)?
@mitEj I second that
I've had two lower back surgeries (one when I was 22 and one at 23) and, although I feel a ton better, I'm still somewhat limited in my activities and expect further degeneration as I age. . .Having the ability to repair the damage to my back, as opposed to simply removing the damaged areas, sure sounds like a great idea to me.
get the politics out of medicine, stem cell therapy should move full speed ahead, anyone that doesn't like it doesn't have to get the new treatments, but you know when they get sick they will get the same treatments they proteted against
stem cells are the future.
I think stem cell research and therapy are terrific. I do not think harvesting stem cells from dead children are a good idea. And, in fact, it is not efficacious. The harvesting of mesenchymal stem cells do not have to come from dead children (human or animal.) In fact, tooth pulp works very well.
I think research is the key. We do not understand the long term effects. This is very promising work.
Where do these embryos come from?
The embryos being used in embryonic stem cell research come from eggs that were fertilized at in vitro fertilization clinics but never implanted in a woman's uterus because they were no longer wanted or needed. The excess embryos were frozen and later voluntarily donated for research purposes. The stem cells can live and grow in special solutions in test tubes or petri dishes. this came off the mayo clinic site, please stick to facts and not political rhetoric
"Excess embryos" are still people. Yes, they need an environment to grow in, but so it is with all people. My point is, we do not have to kill any people to use stem cells. These are the facts.
embryonic stem cells do things others cannot, that is a fact, these embryos will be destroyed either way, wake up
they are not people, they are just a few cells, far from being a person
"About 80,000 people tear their ACL every year..."
I tore my ACL and MCL in 1981. Repair options in the USA are shameful, to say the least. Stem cells I know nothing about. I do know that traveling almost 10,000 miles in 1983 to obtain artificial ACL/MCL implants made out of carbon fiber was the best medical decision I ever made. My American ortho doc was so angry about it he refused to remove my cast and immediately terminated me as his patient. His partner,Jim "The Rusk Rambler" Swink (College Football Hall of Fame) over-heard the loud cursing and was gracious enough to motion me into his office and cut the cast off for me. Here is the key to all this-I've never had to set foot in an ortho doc's office since that day nearly 30 years ago. Could that have any bearing on the fact that in America, patients learn "There are currently, however, no prosthetic ligaments in the U.S. approved by the FDA for ACL reconstruction surgery."????
My knee was a NIGHTMARE of pain and instability before the implants, and today it is stronger and more stable than my "good" knee! Just like my doctor in Cardiff, Wales told me it would be.
This has nothing to do with stem cells, but it has everything to do with the LIE in AMERICA that carbon ligaments are a failure,and that "...synthetic ligaments have come and gone but none have met the qualifications needed for a lasting ACL substitute". You can google search the last two quotes to find the sources who promote such limitations and deception. Thirty years is pretty darn lasting, and this knee of mine is better than original STILL. I welcome anyone with questions to contact me.
The ortho's say they can't do anything more for my scarred rotator cuff tendon. I'd like to investigate stem cell treatment. I'm willing to go to Europe. Can anyone recommend a contact to provide more info? Thanks.