From Horses to Humans

This entry is part 8 of 16 in the series Fall - 2014

From Horses to Humans

Stem Cell Treatment Could Replace Some Surgeries

By Jeff Dodge

What do horses have to do with that nagging joint pain in your knee?

Discomfort from sports injuries and aging could become a thing of the past – without the need for surgery – thanks to groundbreaking work that researchers at Colorado State University are doing with horse stem cells.

It is one of several “biologic translational therapies” – therapies that are developed for animals and then “translated” to humans.

One of the most promising involves taking horses’ stem cells from their own bone marrow, using special techniques to concentrate and expand them, and then injecting them back into the horse to help heal joint injuries. This spring, a team that included Professor David Frisbie, Associate Professor John Kisiday, University Distinguished Professor Wayne McIlwraith and Associate Professor Laurie Goodrich of CSU’s Orthopaedic Research Center published re-search in the journal Veterinary Surgery showing that adding stem-cell therapy to traditional arthroscopic surgery on horses increased success rates significantly. Horses that had the stem-cell treatment were nearly three times as likely to return to normal activity than those that did not. Some lesions in the meniscus inaccessible via surgery have even been treated successfully using stem cells alone.

The team, led by founding ORC Director McIlwraith, is working with renowned orthopaedic surgeon Richard Steadman and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute (SPRI) in Vail to explore a clinical trial for developing similar approaches to human knee injuries”

“We’ve already done another study in collaboration with Dr. Steadman and Dr. William Rodkey of SPRI demonstrating cartilage repair with injection of stem cells into the joint,” McIlwraith said.

The procedures hold promise for comparable treatments in people because the study was done on the horse equivalent of the human knee, and the joints are very similar.

Goodrich said orthopaedists who treat humans have thanked the team at the Orthopaedic Research Center for its equine discoveries that helped their work.

“I like working with my M.D. counterparts,” she said. “I’ve gone into the operating room with them and we have worked towards solving similar problems together.”

As for what the future holds, the researchers said they’ve barely scratched the surface. Some stem cells are better than others at developing cartilage, and once scientists start sorting
and targeting them for specific purposes, treatments are expected to become even more effective. Stem cells can also be preconditioned for particular jobs by keeping them in a specific environment before insertion.

“I think the future holds a lot of promising things, because we haven’t manipulated these cells to do targeted work yet,” Frisbie said.

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