Tendon injuries in racehorses are common and often career-ending. Stem cell therapy now offers a glimmer of hope to horses and owners that face them. But what’s involved, and could the treatment help your horse get back to full health?
Equine tendon injuries will eventually heal by themselves through the production of scar tissue. This tissue is very different from normal tendon tissue, and although some activity after healing is usually possible, most horses that have sustained a tendon injury frequently reinjure the same place in the future, and there will always be a weakness in the affected area.
The beauty of using stem cells to repair the damaged tissue is that they have the ability to precisely replicate any type of tissue. This means that damaged tendon tissue is replaced with new tendon tissue cells, rather than inflexible scarring. As a consequence, the horse is usually able to return to full work, without fear of suffering the same injury again.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Tissue is taken from the injured horse, usually in the form of bone marrow or fat. Under laboratory conditions, individual cells are extracted from the tissue and cultured to create enough stem cells. The stem cells take around four weeks to grow. They are then implanted into the injured areas where they morph into the type of cell necessary to repair the damaged tissue.
The cells removed from the injured horse are cultured and replaced back into the same animal, so that there is no danger of rejection. In the case of tendon injuries, implantation is performed under sedation using ultrasound technology to guide the injection of the stem cells, and it is carried out on an out-patient basis.
Complications are rare and rejection of the implanted cells is unheard of because the horse is receiving his own tissue, not that of another animal. Your vet will usually carry out a follow-up visit to assess your horse’s recovery, one to three months following treatment.
There is a very small risk of infection during the acquisition of bone marrow, as a large needle is used to extract it, usually from the horse’s sternum. Any minor local bruising or bleeding usually resolves within a day or so.
Although the horse will recover from the actual tissue extraction and subsequent stem cell implant within a day or two, it will be at least 12 months before the affected limb recovers fully. During this time, your vet will recommend a controlled rehabilitation program for your horse.
Not long ago, a serious tendon injury meant the end of a competition horse’s career. Now, thanks to stem cell technology, many equine athletes are able to return to a full and useful working life again.
Image source: gallery.nen.gov.uk
Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.