Not a Hard Cell: Part 2

Get the details on how you can help return your injured horse back to his original level with this procedure.

This is the last of a two part series. Need to review Part 1?

Vet-Stem Inc., based in Poway, California, extracts stem cells from the fatty tissue under the horse’s tail. The tissue is processed at the company’s lab and then sent back to the veterinarian who injects the stem cells directly into the site of the injury. Currently, Vet-Stem treats tendon and ligament injuries.

Dr. Travis Meredith at Vet-Stem touts this treatment because it calls upon the animal’s own healing capacities.

“Stem cells are regenerative,” he says. “Where the body’s normal response is to try to heal and stabilize by initiating scar tissue or fibrosis; stem cells actually stimulate and provide regeneration of the damaged tissue. If you put stem cells into an injured tendon, they are going to form into tendon cells. If you put them into a fracture, they will differentiate into bone cells.”

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Dr. Meredith says that for treatment of tendons, this procedure should take place within 30 days after the injury.

“That changes a little bit when we talk about other injuries,” he says. “Suspensory ligaments have a different structure, and there is a significant portion that is attached to the back of the cannon bone. We have seen beneficial effects on cases of suspensory injuries to a year after they occurred.”

Stem cells have different functions for a different disease, he added.

About 80 percent of the nontrack horses treated under Vet-Stem return to work after six months, Dr. Meredith says.

“Using stem cells gives you the maximum opportunity to return the horse to its original level,” he said. “You are not going to exceed the horse’s original level, but it is the only therapy that will give you the maximum opportunity to return that horse to where it was.”

Success is contingent upon a solid rehabilitation program.

“The first thing that I recommend is to work hand-in-hand with your veterinarian to develop a patient-specific rehabilitation program,” Dr. Meredith says. “Tendons heal best when they heal under load, or tension. We start hand-walking the horses for very brief periods the day after the procedure is done; we don’t typically recommend that they be stalled for 30- or 60-day intervals.”

While nonsteroidal drugs can be used during the acute phase of the injury, steroids are not suggested, as they work against the stem cells. Dr. Meredith notes that, depending on the veterinarian, Vet-Stem’s treatment adds about $2,000 to the cost of traditional tendon rehabilitation.

Because stem cells are “undifferentiated” – which means that they have yet to develop into tissue – they are ideal for the treatment of tendon and ligament injuries, which are generally difficult to fully overcome, Dr. Meredith argues.

“They reside there in storage until the body calls them when it’s injured. Naturally what those cells would do is migrate to that site of injury and then differentiate into the type of tissue that is needed at the time,” he says. “In a tendon injury, they would migrate to the site of the tendon and then differentiate into tendon cells. The problem is, certain organs and certain structures have a decreased ability to heal. What our process does is allow us to utilize the body’s own cells and allow your veterinarian to deliver your horse’s own healing capacity right to the site of the injury.”

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