Regenerative Medicine in the Horse

Regenerative medicine is an area of significant research and development in equine sports medicine. (Photo by Laci Jones)

By Lauren Lamb, DVM

The horse’s body is composed of cells for every function. One of these functions is to repair injured tissue. These cells can be collected, concentrated/cultured and injected into injured tissue or joints to help stimulate healing.

The term regenerative medicine is used to describe the use of these reparative cells and other biologics derived from the horse’s body to stimulate tissue repair with minimal scar tissue. Most forms of regenerative medicine in equine sports medicine are focused towards healing injuries to the musculoskeletal system or wounds on the skin.

If you are a horse owner, you understand that horses are prone to musculoskeletal injuries (tendon, ligament and/or bone). A tendon bow is a good example of why regenerative medicine is used to treat horses with musculoskeletal injuries.

When a horse injures a tendon, the injured part of the tendon will heal with scar tissue rather than normal tendon tissue. The scar tissue is quite strong, but not as elastic as the normal tendon tissue. This lack of elasticity results in a high rate of re-injury at the junction of the scar tissue and normal tendon tissue.

The goal of regenerative medicine is to stimulate healing of the injured tendons, ligaments, cartilage, etc. with minimal to no scar tissue. Regenerative medicine may speed up the healing process; however, the ultimate goal of regenerative medicine should be minimizing scar tissue and not shortening the convalescent period.

Stem cell therapy, platelet rich plasma and interleukin receptor antagonist protein (IRAP) are some of the most commonly used forms of regenerative medicine in equine sports medicine. Stem cells are unique cells that have the capacity to become virtually any type of cell within the horse’s body (tendon, ligament, etc.).

Stem cells are seen in all types of tissue in the horse’s body, but they are highly concentrated within the bone marrow and adipose tissue. Adipose tissue can be collected around the horse’s tail head and submitted to a lab. The lab will isolate and concentrate the stem cells from the adipose tissue. These isolated stem cells are sent back to the veterinarian to be injected into the injured tissue.

Read the July issue to learn more!