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Stem cells cure tendon damage- scientists get injured equine athletes back on their hooves with pioneering stem cell therapy


Researchers have unraveled the potential of stem cells in the repair and treatment of damaged tendon tissue. Royal Veterinary College (RVC) spin-out company VetCell Bioscience Ltd, set to star on the BBC 1 fly on the wall series ’SuperVets’ on Thursday 3rd of February, is helping revolutionise veterinary, and now also human, medicine through stem cell technology.

The London Bioscience Innovation Centre based spin-out set up in 2002 by business consultant Greg McGarrell, CEO of VetCell, is going from strength to strength and has now successfully treated over 300 performance horses, such as racehorses, eventers and showjumpers.

Some of the most devastating injuries and diseases of performance horses are now treatable thanks to high tech stem cell therapy. Stem cells, for the first time, offer the prospect of a return to a fully functional tendon.

In the forthcoming instalment of ’SuperVets’ Zara, a lame thoroughbred cross with a core lesion, is treated with stem cell therapy.

Like human athletes, competitive horses are vulnerable to joint injuries, especially tendon. Performance horses, like human athletes, are often pushed to their limits and this can lead to tendon or ligament injury. Injury to tendons is healed by extensive scar tissue, which limits the tendon’s normal role. The scar tissue impairs movement and is stronger than normal tendon, so does not stretch in the same way as normal tendon. In turn, this is likely lead to further lameness.

But, using the new technique to reduce the scar tissue formation caused by injury, and even regenerate damaged tendons, which is notoriously difficult in horses, can lead to complete recovery. The stem cell treatment is unique as it uses tissues to grow more tendon-like cells.

VetCell is the leading provider of stem cell technology to the world of animal health. But, VetCell scientists are now working on revolutionary treatments to speed up human biological healing processes with stem cells. It is possible that similar repair mechanisms can be instituted in humans as well. The researchers are looking at ways that the technology can be transferred to humans to treat conditions that affect tendons and ligaments such as Achilles tendonitis, a painful and often debilitating inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which can make even walking impossible.

Greg McGarrell , CEO of VetCell Bioscience Ltd, said: “VetCell is a real zero to hero biotechnology company, we’ve built it up into one of the UK’s most successful biotechnology University spin-outs on a shoe string. We have a strong management team, which means that we’ve built a powerful company without wasting a penny.

“Our success is largely due to the cutting edge research at the Royal Veterinary College being combined with the knowledge of professional city people. This means that VetCell has had a commercial focus right from the start. While universities are keen to create spin-out companies, far too few of these become successful businesses. A key problem with spin-outs is that they lack good business management.”

Jenny Murray | alfa
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