Autologous Stem Cells are undifferentiated cells that are collected from a horse’s bone marrow and reproduced in a commercial laboratory. Bone marrow can be harvested in a standing sedated horse either from sternum (between the front legs) or the ileum (point of the hip). Collected marrow is sent to a lab for “culturing”, which is the process of growing the cells in media. After two to three weeks, this highly concentrated dose of stem cells can be harvested and used for treatment. One collection usually produces a colony large enough to provide three to four treatment doses. The remaining colony of cells can be stored in perpetuity. Additionally, this colony can be “re-expanded” one time, allowing growth of a secondary colony in the event your horse develops another injury down the road. Like PRP, treatment is generally done with ultrasound guided injection into the site of injury.
It was originally believed that as an undifferentiated line, stem cells could mature into necessary tissue for healing—bone, tendon, ligament, etc. More recently researchers have begun to question if this is actually the case or if the true healing involves the cells’ powerful growth factors and anti-inflammatory properties. Whether or not they actually differentiate and organize into the desired tissue, stem cells have proven helpful in restoration of tissue structure and function. It is increasingly evident that when introduced into an injury, stem cells help mobilize the patient’s own cellular resources for repair and promote self-sustaining tissue growth. Stem cells have been successfully utilized in a variety of conditions including laminitis, tendonitis, and pleuro-pneumonia with improved outcomes compared to traditional treatments. Research is ongoing, but the future appears bright for use of this therapy.