What is regenerative medicine?
Regenerative medicine is a branch of medicine, which deals with the “process of replacing, engineering or regenerating cells or tissues to restore or establish normal function”. This works by stimulating the body’s own repair mechanisms to functionally heal previously irreparable tissues. Whether a performance horse or family pony we want our animals to be pain free and not impaired by loss of function. Regenerative medicine helps restore this normal function. Working with the horse’s own repair mechanism, regenerative medicine amplifies or manipulates this process to encourage the body to produce the right type of cell or tissue without the use of drugs.
First trialled in the 1970s, regenerative medicine has been extensively researched and used by veterinary surgeons around the world to treat a multitude of conditions. Mainly chosen for the treatment of tendon, ligament and joint disease, regenerative therapies have enabled thousands of horses to return to their previous level of performance.
Regenerative medicine treatment options
Your veterinary surgeon may discuss various forms of therapy depending on the severity and length of time the horse has been suffering from the condition. In some cases the choice of treatment may change as the condition develops. It is important to understand that we need to work with the body’s own healing mechanism, which changes over time.
Regenerative medicine options include platelet rich plasma (PRP), bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC), stem cells or autologous conditioned serum (ACS or IRAP). These four technologies have similarities but are very different in when and how they are used.
Using bone marrow or fat (adipose tissue) from the horse, the stem cells are isolated and cultured in the laboratory to increase their number. This process takes approximately two weeks giving rise to millions of cells, enough to treat two joints (1ml per joint). Implanted into the affected joint these cells then modulate the healing process.
National Hunt racehorses that have suffered tendon injuries have a return-to-performance rate of 74% after stem cell treatment compared to 48% anticipated for horses treated with non-biologicals (O’Meara 2010). Recent results have shown that stem cell treatment within one month of injury significantly improves the horse’s recovery.