Research recently undertaken by scientists at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) has found that the use of embryonic stem cells may give horses with tendon injuries a greater chance of a successful return to active work.
Tendon injuries are a common problem in horses. Instead of regenerating healthy tendon tissue, they repair by forming scar tissue, pre-disposing the horse to a high risk of re-injury.
Tendon injuries are therefore a leading cause of retirement in horses taking part in a wide range of disciplines.
In the early stages following a tendon injury there is a significant increase in inflammation and this is likely to contribute to the poor tissue regeneration.
The effects of inflammation
In recent work, funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board, Racing Foundation, Alice Noakes Memorial Charitable Trust and Beryl Evetts and Robert Luff Animal Welfare Trust, stem cell researchers have demonstrated that the inflammation produced following an injury has very negative consequences for adult tendon cells.
Using a laboratory model they found that adult tendon cells cannot produce ‘artificial’ tendons efficiently when exposed to inflammation.
New treatment opportunities
In contrast, they found that embryonic stem cells (ESCs) that were directed to turn into tendon cells behaved as normal when exposed to inflammation.
The team at the AHT believes this now opens up the possibility of further studies to develop new drug treatments that could be used to protect adult tendon cells following an injury.
Protecting tendon cells from inflammation could help to improve the regeneration of healthy tendon tissue to allow more horses to remain in active work.