Lynne Sladky/AP

From Horses to Humans, Stem Cells Advance Treatment of Damaged Tendons

April 18, 2009 07:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
A new stem-cell therapy popular in the horse racing community will soon be tested in humans.

Procedure Proven Effective in Horses

On Wednesday, British-based company MedCell Bioscience Ltd announced that within 12 months it will begin medical trials on humans for a “stem-cell repair technique” commonly used on racehorses. The treatment is meant for people who have injured their Achilles tendons.

Nicola Maffulli, an orthopedic surgeon who will help conduct the research, told Reuters, “The move from clinical veterinary to human medicine is inspiring and unusual—we normally see the translation happening the other way around.”

According to Reuters, doctors will extract and grow tissue from the individual’s own cells, then they will inject the patients with “millions of their own cells.” The new tissue will help restore the injured parts.

A 2008 Wired article explained how stem cell treatments work: “Adult stem cells, particularly mesenchymal cells that come from muscle, bone and fat, are cells with a powerful ability to replicate and not a lot of personal identity. They easily take on the characteristics of surrounding cells and they tend to grow quickly once they get there.”

Statistics showed that after three years, 1500 horses given stem-cell treatments were 50 percent less prone to re-injury than those given traditional treatments.

A follow-up trial is slated for 2011.

Video: Pinions, Australia’s “wonder horse”

Pinions, the second racehorse in Australia treated with the stem-cell repair technique, was able to regain winning form after a year of rehabilitation. Australia’s 7 News explained that stem cells were taken from bone marrow in Pinions’ chest, sent to a lab where they were grown and then returned to the horse’s veterinarian in syringes ready for injection.

A Channel 7 News anchor reported, “The next step is to collect stem cells when foals are born and keep them in a ‘bank’ for future use.”

Background: Stem cell treatments on horses

The Royal Veterinary College and its “spin-out company” VetCell Bioscience Ltd (now MedCell) began the first studies of stem cell treatments on horses. In a 2006 press release the RVC explains that scar tissue doesn’t have the same elasticity as a tendon’s normal tissue, however, “[U]sing the new technique to reduce the scar tissue formation caused by injury, and even regenerate damaged tendons … can lead to complete recovery.”

Reference: Stem Cell and Kentucky Derby Web Guides


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