Arthritis, tendon and ligament injuries are common in equine athletes, and there are multiple treatments. One of the newest treatments for these injuries is called regenerative medicine, which uses stem cells to aid in healing. Typically, stem cells are available from three sources: the umbilical cord of foals; fat tissue; and bone marrow. Dr. Alicia Berone from Ohio State indicates that fat and bone marrow can be obtained from a patient, processed, and placed back into the horse’s damaged tissue, but cell yield and quality can vary and both are invasive processes that can even lead to a risk of cardiac arrythmias. Blood from the umbilicus can be obtained at foaling, processed for stem cells, frozen and stored for later use, but the owner has to pay for storage fees and the cells’ viability declines over time.
The newest source of stem cells is from the mouth of foals that died at birth due to birthing complications, but were otherwise healthy. The dental pulp is a ball of tissue below the gum line in newborn foals, and Dr. Bertone indicates it is the most primitive form of stem cell tissue and has the greatest potential for developing into bone, ligaments, blood vessels and more. The dental pulp was recently tested in 20 lame horses with tendon or ligament issues or arthritis. The dental pulp tissue was injected directly into the affected joint or soft tissue injury, while another 20 horses served as controls. Results indicated horses with tendon and ligament issues responded very well as several became sound, and the horses with arthritis responded but just not as well. The treatment seems to be effective for a long period as a follow-up owner survey revealed 83 percent of the horses were being ridden two years after the treatment.