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Use of Fetal Stem Cells in Equine RehabilitationBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 24, 2017

Despite the introduction of stem cell therapy to the equine industry and the barrage of success stories following in its wake, many questions continue to plague equine researchers, veterinarians, and owners of injured horses.

For example, from where should stem cells be harvested, bone marrow or adipose tissue? Should stem cells be cultured, should a commercial kit be used so that stem cells can be injected quickly into the horse, or should a combination of both be employed? Would fetal-derived stem cells be a better option?

“Stem cell therapy has become a common treatment modality for a variety of musculoskeletal injuries in horses, including bowed tendons. Injuries to the superficial digital flexor tendon, among others, are notoriously challenging to heal, require months of lay-up, and are prone to reinjury. Stem cell research suggests improved healing rates and decreased chances of reinjury following therapy rather than relying on rest and rehabilitation alone,” explained Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor for Kentucky Equine Research (KER) in Versailles, Kentucky.

In human medicine, many parents elect to “bank” stem cells from fetal tissues at the time of birth. Still not as popular in the equine industry, one recent study* shows that stem cells derived from fetal tissues rather than an older horse’s own bone marrow or adipose tissue might, in fact, be more effective when treating an injury.

In their publication, the researchers reported that stem cells derived from amniotic membranes or the material contained within the umbilical cord, referred to as Wharton’s jelly, had beneficial properties compared with bone or adipose-derived adult stem cells.

“The stem cells from fetal tissues are intermediate between embryonic and adult cells, and they appear to have an improved ability over adult stem cells to spur the development of a variety of tissue types, such as bone and cartilage,” Whitehouse said.

Further, harvesting stem cells derived from fetal tissues does not involve an invasive procedure and can be used immediately in sick foals or saved for later use, such as the management of musculoskeletal conditions later in life.

“Another way of protecting a horse’s musculoskeletal system is through the prophylactic administration of oral joint health supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, and hyaluronic acid,” advised Whitehouse. “KER offers products containing each of these key ingredients that can help protect joints and soft tissues from injury and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.”

Look for KER’s safe and effective joint supplements that ingredients known to prophylactically protect joints, including KER•Flex, with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride; Synovate HA with high-molecular weight hyaluronic acid; and EO•3, a marine-derived source of both DHA and EPA.

Australian horse owners should look for these research proven supplements.

*Iacono, E., L. Pascucci, B. Rossi, et al. Ultrastructural characteristics and immune profile of equine MSCs from fetal adnexa. Reproduction. In press.