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The Latest Front In the War on Arthritis

Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2010

The use of stem cell therapy for horses has been pioneered by the company Vet-Stem for 5 years now, with over 5000 horses treated with their own fat derived stem cells. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes some of the independent academic research going on in this area of equine medicine. According to the article, Dr. Constance Chu, an associate professor and director of the Cartilage Restoration Center at the University of Pittsburgh, and Dr, Lisa Fortier, an associate professor of large-animal surgery at Cornell University's veterinary school, are evaluating various types of stem cells for direct injection into horses with cartilage damage, as well as in vitro bioengineering of new cartilage for implantation.

For about two decades, Dr. Chu and other researchers in the field have been trying to improve treatment by regenerating cartilage tissue. While many scientists have been successful at creating new tissue in the lab, they haven't been able to grow cartilage in humans. "The main challenge is that the structure of cartilage, which is critical to its supporting weight, is hard to mimic", says Fei Wang, director of the Musculoskeletal Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Program at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases in Bethesda, Md., which funds many researchers working on cartilage regeneration.

Drs Chu and Fortier use mesenchymal stem cells similar to Vet-Stem, however instead of extracting them from the fat, they isolate the cells from the bone marrow. Bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells have been used in humans by the company Osiris Therapeutics for a variety of conditions, including cartilage repair. Drs. Chu and Fortier use an approach similar to Osiris in that the specific mesenchymal stem cells are grown and expanded in tissue culture before readministration. Additionally, they use non-expanded bone marrow cells, which contain a wide variety of cell types in addition to mesenchymal stem cells.

"In order to quantify healing effects of the stem cells, Dr. Chu is investigating new imaging techniques that allow for detection of cartilage damage before it is clinically visible. One type of technique is called optical coherence tomography, which provides a three-dimensional image by scattering light through tissue, potentially has the ability to give detailed images of cartilage but without damaging the tissue" said Dr. Chu.

With collaborators at Cornell University, Colorado State University and University of California, San Diego, a $1.7 million federal grant was awarded to investigate regeneration of cartilage in horses with the idea of initiating human trials in 2 years.



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