Stem Cells at EquiBreed NZ

EquiBreed NZ was originally approached by the local equine vets to evaluate the use of stem cells in horses. As part  of a collaboration with Waikato University, AgResearch and EquiBreed NZ a stem cell project was underway, funded by the NZERF.

Why would you want stem cell therapies for your horse?

When up to 40% of horses in training sustain a musculoskeletal injury during their training life and for every day out of training the horse is losing potential earnings, then any treatment that improves the quality of the healed tissue and reduces the risk of reinjury, becomes very attractive.
Therefore, the perfect treatment would prevent re-injury as well as provide high quality healing of the damaged tissue and the return to an athletic career. Recently, much interest has been shown in the use of “stem cells” to facilitate healing. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are adult-derived, regenerative cells that are obtained from connective tissue. They have recently provided new alternatives for treating lameness conditions, wounds, eye injuries and post breeding endometritis.

What is a Mesenchymal Stem Cell (MSC)?

There are two major types of stem cells i) mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), also called adult stem cells, which include those derived from adipose tissue (fat), bone marrow and blood and ii) embryonic stem cells. Mesenchymal stem cells are undifferentiated cells found in many tissues, with the primary role of tissue maintenance and regeneration. In response to the appropriate stimuli, adult stem cells can also differentiate into a variety of specialized tissues other than their tissue of origin, such as adipocytes (fat cells), chondrocytes (cartilage) and osteocytes (bone), a phenomenon known as transdifferentiation or plasticity. These cells are referred to as “multipotent”.

NZERF funded Stem Cell Project – Collaboration between EquiBreed NZ, Waikato University & AgResearch

This project evaluated three sources of connective tissue, adipose tissue, bone marrow and peripheral blood to determine which one is the optimal source of MSCs for treating your horse. Adipose derived stem cells (ADSC), bone marrow derived stem cells (BMSC) and peripheral blood derived stem cells (pBSC) were isolated from adult tissue to compare growth characteristics, cryopreservation ability, differentiation capacity and mRNA gene expression.
This study established methods for the recovery, freezing and differentiation of stem cells from adipose tissue and bone marrow derived tissue for horses in New Zealand. The yields and viability of stem cells were similar for the different tissue sources, however the period of culture required to obtain stem cells from the different tissue types varied markedly. There were no differences detected between samples derived from post mortem versus live animals. The differentiation of the stem cells into adipose, cartilage and bone tissue was confirmed by tissue specific staining and histology. The PCR analysis confirmed that genes were expressed for the different tissue types, but the timing of the gene expression was variable and warrants further investigation.
For the practical application of this technology, it appears that in vitro at least, that bone marrow derived stem cells differentiate better into cartilage and may be more suitable for joint treatments than adipose derived stem cells. To assess the treatments of tendon lesions with stem cells, an in vivo trial is about to commence. The similarity between post mortem and live animal samples in their ability to produce stem cells also warrants further investigation due to the enormous potential benefits for animal welfare and banking of samples.

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Welcome to our new EquiBreed NZ website and blog! We plan to use this forum to bring you our news, introduce the EquiBreed team to you and give you handy tips like “How to prepare your mare for breeding” and “How do I import stallion semen into NZ?” We love to follow the careers of our babies Made at EquiBreed, so we will post photos and events and follow them as they enrich your lives or make it to the Olympics! You can also keep ahead of the game by reading about our cutting edge research on the latest improvements in equine reproduction for EquiBreed breeders… Watch this space!

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