Study: Not All Equine Stem Cells Equal (AAEP 2012)

Veterinarians have identified stem cell therapies as potentially powerful weapons in the war on equine wounds and injuries. However, the exact stem cell types most beneficial for particular “battles” remain unclear.

“Stem cells, particularly a specific cohort of stem cells called mesenchymal stromal cells that have the ability to become any one of a variety of cell type such as bone or cartilage, are a promising tool for treating various orthopedic conditions,” explained Janina Burk, DVM, of the Large Animal Clinic for Surgery at the University of Leipzig in Germany. Burk and her research colleagues recently compared a variety of mesenchymal stromal cell sources. She presented their results at the 2012 American Associations of Equine Practitioners' Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif.

Mesenchymal stromal cells can be derived from bone marrow, fat (adipose) tissue, other body tissues (such as tendons, the body tissue used in this study), and umbilical cord blood and tissue. Currently, the “best” source of stem cells for treating tendon, ligament, and other orthopedic injuries remains a topic of great debate due to a lack of comparative studies. And while many researchers are running from bench to stall with stem cell technology, others are recalling their troops and holding out for the “hero” stem cell source.

“The purpose of our study was to compare some basic characteristics of mesenchymal stromal cells derived from five different sources,” said Burk.

They examined the sources listed above and determined:

  • The highest cell yield was from adipose and tendon tissues;
  • Those two populations of cells grew quickly in culture as compared to the other cell populations;
  • The production of cell “markers” that are produced by normal tendon tissues varied markedly depending on the cell source (meaning not all mesenchymal stromal cells behaved like true tendon cells); and
  • The ability for the cells to differentiate into bone or cartilage cells differed. Bone marrow-derived cells were best at becoming bone cells and cells from umbilical cord blood were best at becoming cartilage cells.

“The five different populations of stromal cells used … showed significantly distinct properties in this study, suggesting that cell source could play a major role in the behavior of stem cells used in the clinical setting," Burk concluded. "It is possible that exploiting these properties could improve the outcome of stem cell therapy.”

In other words, either choosing a specific cell source or altering the way mesenchymal stromal cells are treated in the laboratory before injecting them into an injured tendon could maximize this therapy’s efficacy, improving injured horses’ chances of recovering and returning to work.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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