Healing equine injuries with help from stem cells

Middleburg AREC; horses / mare and foalWhen a horse has a tendon or ligament injury, the results can be career-ending. A researcher at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine is searching for the best way to use stem cells derived from fat to stimulate the natural repair mechanisms in horses with these types of injuries.

“Stem cells can be used for any type of tissue repair, but my work specifically deals with tendons and ligaments,” explained Dr. Linda Dahlgren, associate professor of large animal surgery in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. “We use stem cells from adipose, or fat, tissue because it is readily available in any species, it is easy to harvest, and, when cultured, it expands faster than cells derived from bone marrow.”

Stem cells, unspecialized cells that are part of the body’s repair system, are capable of reforming damaged tissues. Regenerative medicine researchers like Dahlgren can harvest stem cells from a horse’s healthy cells and inject them directly into damaged tissues, and they have more than one way of doing this.

“When we use adult stem cells from fat, they can either be ‘fresh’ — so we just isolate them, put them in a syringe, and inject them into the damaged tissue — or they can be cultured in a lab and then injected into the tissue,” said Dahlgren, who is board certified with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Dahlgren’s current research looks at the differences in gene expression between these fresh and cultured adult stem cells derived from fat.

“By knowing the differences in gene expressions, we might someday know if one set of cells is better-suited to repair certain types of damaged tissue,” she said.

Funded through the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, the research project lays the groundwork for new regenerative medicine techniques to help Virginia’s horse industry address some of the most common types of equine injuries.

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