The London-based company has developed a technique that uses stem cells drawn from the umbilical cord blood of foals or from adult horses’ bone marrow, to treat muscular injuries to horse’s leg tendons.
Some of the most devastating injuries and diseases of performance horses are now treatable thanks to high tech stem cell therapy. Chronic tendinitis continues to be one of the most common career-limiting injuries suffered by flat racing and jump horses. Three high-profile horses — Harchibald, Inglis Drever and Kicking King — missed this year’s Cheltenham Festival because of tendon problems. Stem cells, for the first time, offer the prospect of a return to a fully functional tendon.
Set up by researchers at the RVC in 2002 the spin-out has seen demand for its service grow rapidly and the company is currently treating about 30 horses per month for a fee of up to £2,000 per animal.
David Mountford, VetCell’s Chief Executive, said: “Tendinitis is a leading cause of retirement for racehorses that the traditional veterinary profession has had a lot of difficulty treating. The treatment, which involves injecting cultured horse stem cells directly into the damaged muscle, is twice as effective as conventional therapies for muscular injuries to racehorses, which are often valued in the millions of pounds.”
The company already has customers throughout Europe and the Middle East and has licensed the technology for use in Japan, Australia, Argentina and South Africa. The therapy allows the muscles to heal without the usual scarring and lesions, which lead to stiffness and a propensity to further injury.
Now the company is using its expertise to set its sights on a potentially revolutionary stem-cell-based treatment for human shoulder injuries that, if successful, could be worth billions of pounds.
The company is developing trials for a treatment for similar (rotator cuff) injuries in human beings, in partnership with the Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science. Currently, about 60 per cent of elderly people in the UK experience shoulder-related injuries.
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Jenny Murray | alfa
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