The galloping movement of a horse is fast, powerful and allows a half-ton animal to propel himself forward with power and grace. This movement also causes a great amount of strain on the hind tendons of the animal, as they launch their massive bodies forward and absorb the impact of each landing. It’s no wonder that horse tendon injuries can happen so frequently with this repeated motion and the incredible strain being put on their bodies.

In the past, a tendon injury was a career-ender. It almost certainly meant retirement from whatever work that horse was involved in. A quite common problem in horses, this type of injury is actually seen in nearly half of all sport horse injuries. Tendon injuries still continue to be the leading cause of retirement in horses, as once they occur there is an extremely high risk for re-injury. But, there also continues to be more and more research done in the field of tendon injuries in horses and new ways for helping injured animals see a full and successful recovery.

Animal Health Trust scientists are now taking a look at the benefits of utilizing embryonic stem cells to aid in the recovery of horses with these injuries. Through their research, what they’ve begun to see is that there’s a much higher chance of a successful recovery, along with an increased opportunity to return to active work for those horses who are treated with embryonic stem cells. The type of recovery that’s happening is also leading to less recurrence of the same injury.

The Results of Inflammation

When a tendon injury first occurs, the inflammation that happens as a result is a huge contributor to poor tissue regeneration. As stem cell researchers have recently demonstrated, this is because there are negative effects caused by the inflammation on the adult tendon cells, preventing them from behaving as they normally would and healing effectively. It was actually shown in a lab model that when there’s inflammation present, those effected adult tendon cells cannot successfully product ‘artificial’ tendons.

Many injuries in horse tendons reoccur because of the way they heal. Rather than regenerating healthy tissue, the injuries repair themselves by forming scar tissue, which heightens the risk of reinjuring the same tendon. Because of this common cycle of recurring injury it’s no wonder that horses are retired from all types of work when this happens, even just one time. Without this scar tissue forming, there’s less chance that same injury is going to happen again so easily.

Treatments on the Horizon

Embryonic stem cell research has shown that when this type of cells are introduced to the inflamed areas, they behave normally, regardless of being exposed to the inflammation. Unlike adult tendon cells that cannot properly regenerate under these conditions, embryonic stem cells react no differently.  What this shows is that there’s new possibility for treatments that could be used to keep adult tendon cells protected after being injured. Keeping these cells protected means there’s a better chance for regenerating healthy tendon tissues, allowing horses to heal more successfully and have a much greater chance of returning to active work.

So, by introducing embryonic stem cells, researchers are able to clearly demonstrate that they are a highly likely source to examine for successful treatment and recovery, because they don’t seem to exhibit any negative effects or behaviors when exposed to these inflamed tendon injuries, in the same way adult tendon cells do. In fact, the stem cells don’t react any differently in this very different environment, and carry on their job as normal.

As studies continue to progress, and new possibilities for more treatment options arise, the importance of using embryonic stem cell therapy is becoming much more evident. Their benefits are many, including assisting with more successful recovery, helping to prevent reinjury and allowing horses to continue working beyond a once career-ending injury.

There is still much work that can be done to further narrow down treatments and increase their level of success. But, with continued research, scientists will keep developing better treatments as their knowledge of embryonic stem cell use opens more doors for more treatment possibilities.


A web developer at PhD Kingdom and Academic Brits, Michael Dehoyos assists companies in creating and developing their marketing strategy concepts. He contributes to a number of websites and publications, including the online academic service NextCourseWork.

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