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Which Regenerative Therapy Is Best for Equine Injuries?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · July 19, 2017

Not that long ago, treatment strategies for soft tissue injuries, like those affecting the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT), relied heavily on extensive rest. Following a carefully designed exercise protocol, many horses returned to work only to reinjure themselves. Despite the widespread availability of various regenerative therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of soft-tissue injuries, owners find themselves faced with a new dilemma: choosing the therapy that best fits their horse.

Some of the most popular regenerative therapies currently used for the management of various equine soft tissue injuries include stem cell therapy, both adipose- and bone-marrow-derived, and platelet-rich plasma or PRP.

In all three cases, the samples are collected from the injured horse (e.g., adipose-derived stem cells from fat cells collected from the tail head; bone-marrow collected from the sternum, and platelets harvested from a blood sample). They are processed either using a commercial kit at the veterinarian’s in-house laboratory or sent to a laboratory for processing. The resultant product is subsequently injected directly into the tendon injury.

Each regenerative therapy has benefits in terms of ease of use and expense. Many studies have been conducted to help guide owners in choosing an appropriate regenerative therapy, but no clear-cut answer has yet presented itself.

In the most recent effort to shed light on alternative therapies, one group of researchers* tested the three types of therapies. To do so, injuries of the SDFT were noted in 12 horses. Those lesions were treated with adipose-derived stem cells, bone marrow-derived stem cells, PRP, or saline as a control. Ultrasound examinations to assess healing were performed routinely for 45 weeks. Key findings included:

  • Horses treated with bone-marrow-derived stem cells had ultrasonographic evidence of early healing compared to the other groups;
  • All horses treated with a regenerative therapy achieved the same level of exercise by 10 weeks, which was significantly earlier than the horses in the saline control group; and
  • Tissue healing was superior in all three treatment groups compared to the saline control group, and bone-marrow-derived stem cells appeared to have improved treatment over the other regenerative therapies.

The researchers concluded that “a clear beneficial effect was elicited by all treatments compared with the control group.” Although differences between treatments were relatively small, therapy with bone-marrow-derived stem cells resulted in a better outcome than PRP and adipose-derived stem cells.

According to Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor for Kentucky Equine Research (KER), nutritional supplements can also help keep tendons healthy or support healing following injury. “Quality products containing chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids all support the well-being of the musculoskeletal system, including the tendons and ligaments.”

Look for KER’s KER•Flex, Synovate HA, and EO•3. Australian horse owners should also look for Glucos-A-Flex.

*Romero, A., L. Barrachina, B. Ranera, et al. 2017. Comparison of autologous bone marrow and adipose tissue derived mesenchymal stem cells, and platelet rich plasma, for treating surgically induced lesions of the equine superficial digital flexor tendon. Veterinary Journal. 224:76-84.