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Stem Cell Therapy for Metabolic HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 4, 2016

Stem cells have become, over the past several years, somewhat of a magic elixir for horses suffering from musculoskeletal injuries. These cells have the ability to grow into a variety of cell types, including bone, cartilage, tendon, and ligament. The technology is autologous, meaning that an injured horse’s cells can be used to treat its own injuries, which limits adverse side effects. But what if that horse’s stem cells aren’t what they should be, as in horses with equine metabolic syndrome (EMS)?

EMS describes horses that are often overweight  with insulin resistance and chronic laminitis. Mirroring the obesity epidemic in both humans and horses, EMS is increasingly diagnosed in both species, with body-wide consequences reaching far beyond the sensitive tissues of the horse’s hoof.

Researchers from Poland recently reported* that horses with EMS produce stem cells that are not quite up to snuff. Specifically, stem cells harvested from adipose tissue from EMS horses lacked the ability to become bone cells. Further, those stem cells actually appeared to be in the process of apoptosis—or programmed cell death.

These findings suggest that using what many people believe as a safe, top-of-the-line treatment strategies using a horse’s own tissues many not be as perfect as we originally thought if the horse isn’t healthy.

“Protect not only your horse’s hooves but also his stem cells by minimizing the development or progression of insulin resistance. Maintain an appropriate body weight throughout life by maximizing the amount of forage in the diet and avoiding feeding excessive calories to easy keepers,” advised Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a Kentucky Equine Research (KER) nutritionist.

In addition, consider feeding KER’s Micro-Max, a product that provides vitamins and trace minerals in a low-starch, low-calorie form for horses that are overweight, on all-forage diets, or consume less than the recommended daily amount of fortified feeds. In Australia, horse owners should choose Gold Pellet for the same effect.

*Marycz, K., K. Kornicka, M. Maredziak, et al. Equine metabolic syndrome impairs adipose stem cells osteogenic differentiation by predominance of autophagy of selective mitophagy. Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. In press.