The performance-horse industry could be among the first to benefit from the harnessing of embryonic stem cells to repair tendon, ligament, cartilage and bone damage, the partners say, though they expect the work to have far wider applications.
Dr. Paul Verma of the Monash Institute of Medical Research is working to develop the embryonic stem-cell lines to create a bank of them matched to specific horses.
The cells have the potential to reverse tendon, ligament, cartilage and bone damage that can end a horse's athletic career, and in some cases even result in euthanasia, the partners say.
"We have developed techniques to derive stem cells from horse embryos, and through a pilot study we have successfully created a number of equine embryonic stem-cell lines," Verma says. "The next step will be to look at using these lines to regenerate (damaged) cells. Once the stem cells can be coaxed into 'becoming' the appropriate tissue cells, they can be transplanted to replace the original cells."
Because the therapeutic cells will be recognized by a horse's immune system as its own, there will be no risk of tissue rejection, according to a news release from ViaGen.
"The risk of rejection will be overcome because the new tissue will genetically match the horse receiving treatment," explains Dr. Irina Polejaeva, chief scientific officer for ViaGen, which bills itself as "The Cloning Company."
Current stem-cell therapies involve aspirating adipose (fat) cells or bone-marrow cells from the injured horse, which are sent to a laboratory and grown into the required tissue cells over a period of up to three weeks.
Three advantages embryonic cells have over the current system, ViaGen says, are flexibility to make any cell type, the fact that one embryonic cell can potentially provide an endless supply of cells with defined characteristics and unlimited production of embryos through somatic cell nuclear transfer process.