Adipose-Derived Stem Cells for Tendon Injuries: The Fat is Phat

Results of a new study suggest stem cell therapy might prove to be a valuable tool for treating tendon injuries, which are common in all types of performance horses and can be challenging to treat. Researchers from Cornell University's Comparative Orthopaedics Laboratory reported that injecting stem cells derived from an injured horse's own fat (adipose) deposits into the affected tendon improved tendon organization.

"Tendon injuries are an important cause of lost training days and can be career-ending events with a high rate of recurrence," explained Alan J. Nixon, BVSc, MS, Dipl. ACVS. "Novel means of treating tendons are essential."

Stem cell research has shown that adult stem cells can be safely and easily harvested from fat deposits in a horse and used to treat a variety of musculoskeletal diseases. These cells are capable of becoming bone, muscle, cartilage, or tendon cells. Once introduced to the injury site, adipose-derived stem cells can help heal the affected tissues.

In this study Nixon and colleagues induced tendonitis in the superficial digital flexor tendons of eight horses. They treated four horses with adipose-derived stem cells by injecting the cells directly into the tendon lesions, and they injected the remaining four horses with a saline placebo.

"After six weeks, no ultrasonographic difference in rate or quality of tendon repair was noted between horses that had or had not been treated with stem cells," reported Nixon. "However, at the microscopic level, a significant improvement in the architecture of the tendon fibers was noted," along with reduced formation of abnormal blood vessels in the tendon, inflammation, and deposition of immature type III collagen (instead of type I collagen normally found in healthy, normal, adult tendons).

The fat-derived stromal (connective tissue) cells appeared to induce an anti-inflammatory effect in the tendon lesions; however, the potential impact of some other biologically active component of the adipose tissue on tendon healing cannot be ruled out.

These results indicate that injecting adipose-derived stem cells directly into a tendon lesion can impact the repair process.

Further research, including longer-term studies, is needed to fully evaluate the effects of adipose-derived stem cell therapy on tendon injuries.

The study, "Effect of adipose-derived nucleated cell fractions on tendon repair in horses with collagenase-induced tendonitis," was supported in part by Vet-Stem Incorporated and was published in the July 2008 edition of the American Journal of Veterinary Research.

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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