Stem Cell Therapy as a Potential Treatment for Laminitis

While researchers have not yet completed any formal studies of stem cells and laminitis, both Raul Bras, DVM, CJF, of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital's podiatry department, and John Peroni, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, of the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine, have clinical experience using stem cells for laminitis cases, and they presented at the 2012 International Equine Conference of the Equine Limb--Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics, held Nov. 2-3 in Monterey, Calif.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) are multipotent stromal (connective tissue) cells that can differentiate into many types of cells, including those that make up bone, cartilage, and fat. Research shows that stem cell therapy helps improve the quality of healing in orthopedic (bone) lesions.

"MSC therapy is an attractive treatment modality (for laminitis) because of its potential to positively influence tissue repair," Bras said. The hope is that it would also help repair laminar damage and stabilize the coffin bone within the hoof capsule.

In addition to the possibility of healing tissues, studies show that stem cell treatment has an anti-inflammatory effect, which might offer an additional benefit to the laminitic horse.

However, using stem cell therapy for laminitis isn't without concern, Peroni said, noting that stem cells could theoretically block capillaries, which are vital in supplying blood to the laminae. "The last thing you want to do is plug things up," he explained.

Peroni's experience using stem cell therapy in laminitic horses consists mostly of cases with few treatment options remaining.

Questions also remain on how, when, and where to implement the stem cell therapy when treating a laminitic horse. "A lot is largely unanswered," Peroni said. But, he added, when talking anecdotally about use of stem cell therapy for horses with laminitis, "people are reporting that horses seem to do well and quality of healing improves. My interest is in learning if these therapies help horses, and I believe they do."

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