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Stem cell treatments for tendon injuries have become commonplace in sports horse medicine.

The stem cells are harvested from the bone marrow of the horse, purified and treated with factors that promote them to grow into tendon cells.

They are then injected into the injured parts of the tendon where they grow to produce good quality tendon tissue.

Without stem cells the horse has to rely upon scar tissue to heal the tendon and this is neither as elastic nor as resilient as proper tendon tissue.

Similar problems occur when the cartilage in the stifle is torn or crushed.

The stifle of the horse corresponds to the knee of a human and, like people, horses have a pad of thick cartilage that separates the bottom of the thigh bone from the top of the gaskin bone.

This cartilage is called the meniscus and it can be injured by excessive stress, twisting or wrenching of the joint.

Once it is damaged it will not heal, but becomes more and more frayed and tattered.

Currently, the best treatment is to remove the loose, frayed portion and allow the fresh, straight edge to heal with scar tissue.

But now vets are hopeful that they can also offer stem cell repair for damaged stifle cartilage.

This would provide a useful treatment and could make the difference between permanent lameness and recovery for some sport horses.

For more of the latest veterinary research and developments, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (17 September, ’09)

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