The regenerative medicine field has progressed faster than Secretariat's 1973 Belmont stakes win. And a Cornell University research team that uses horses' own bone marrow to successfully treat joint injuries is helping take stem cell therapy to the next level.
"Joint injuries such as chip fractures or osteochondral defects like osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) are extremely common in horses. Many different surgical treatment modalities are available, yet none has proven to be a superior choice," explained research team leader Lisa A. Fortier, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, associate professor of surgery at Cornell University and president of the International Cartilage Repair Society.
The goal of any joint therapy is to enhance cartilage repair to diminish knee pain, restore joint function, and delay the development of osteoarthritis. As clear-cut and well-defined as it sounds, achieving this goal is proving to be more elusive than the Triple Crown.
"All of the currently available treatment choices appear equally effective; however, a simpler, completely arthroscopic, single-step, cost-effective cartilage repair procedure that uses a horse's own body to optimally heal cartilage defects is desirable," said Fortier.
Based on her team's previous research, Fortier knows bone marrow is a rich source of stem cells and growth factors and that placing a bone marrow concentrate inside a cartilage defect could prove to be the coveted "superior" treatment option for joint injuries.
To test this theory, Fortier and colleagues created a cartilage defect in the stifle of 12 horses. Six horses were treated with the standard "microfracture" approach (a procedure performed to remove damaged tissue and create small holes in the underlying bone tissue to allow blood and cells access to the lesioned area) while the remaining six horses were treated with both microfracture and a bone marrow concentrate.
"The key finding of this study was that joints treated with the bone marrow concentrate had increased filling of the cartilage defect, and the repaired cartilage was better integrated with the surrounding healthy cartilage than joints that were treated via microfracture alone," relayed Fortier.
In light of the exciting preliminary results, additional research using bone marrow concentrates is ongoing. Specifically, studies using horses with naturally-occurring cartilage defects are needed to confirm the superiority of this novel repair procedure and to determine the long-term success of the technique.
The study, "Concentrated bone marrow aspirate improves full-thickness cartilage repair compared with microfracture in the equine model," will be published in the October 2010 edition of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.
The abstract is available on PubMed.
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.