There currently is much hype and hope pertaining to stem cell therapy in equine medicine, but not all methods of collecting stem cells are created equal, warn researchers from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal, Canada.

"Even small factors, such as the way that stem cells are separated, can impact the number of cells we collect to ultimately inject back into the horse," explained lead researcher Sheila Laverty, MVB, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVS/ECVS, a professor of equine surgery. "There is an industry-wide need to assess and standardize the isolation of stem cells from horses before more clinical trials are performed on the efficacy of stem cells in horses to compare results obtained in different laboratories."

So instead of focusing on efficacy of stem cell therapy, Laverty and colleagues elected to return to basic science.

"We compared the three currently accepted techniques of isolating stem cells from bone marrow to see which one could be considered optimal," said Laverty.

The three currently accepted techniques are the Classic protocol, the Percoll or Ficoll method, and the adipogenesis assay.

Key findings of the study, performed by Laverty's student, Celine Bourzac, were:

  • The Percoll protocol yielded more stem cells than the other two protocols; and
  • After 14 days of culture, more stem cells were recovered via the Percoll protocol.

Importantly, no difference in viability or ability of stem cells to transform into bone or cartilage cells was noted between the three collection methods.

"These data suggest that the Percoll method is best for obtaining the largest number of bone marrow-derived stem cells and that these cells had the best self-renewal potential," Laverty relayed. "The Percoll protocol should be considered for isolating stem cells from bone marrow to maximize yield and minimize culture time."

Laverty added, "Despite all the hype, there is a need for basic research to better understand how these cells actually improve healing. When these knowledge gaps have been filled, hopefully we’ll be able to tailor and optimize therapy in rational ways to improve healing in equine tissues."

The study, "Isolation of equine bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells: a comparison between three protocols," will be published in an upcoming edition of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The abstract is available online

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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