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Swiss researchers have found mistletoe extract to be an effective treatment for sarcoids.

A study, carried out by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Frick, tested the effect of mistletoe extract on 43 horses, injecting it into the tumours.

Of the 163 sarcoids treated, 67% showed complete or partial regression with the extract, 40% with a saline placebo.

Vincent Gerber of the University of Bern led the research. He said: “If the treatment is successful, all tumours of a patient can regress, but the response was slow. In many cases therapeutic effects did not become apparent until after the end of the 15-week treatment period.”

Professor Derek Knottenbelt, a research expert in sarcoids at Liverpool University’s equine hospital, said that the study had “inherent credibility” and may have value in the future.

“Its results were impressive, but it is hard to be sure until much more work is done,” he said, highlighting that some verrucous sarcoids resolve and then recur 15 years later.

“The fact it has only a ‘remote effect’ on the more aggressive lesions indicates that the material is not a cure, but a means of encouraging some local immunity by the horse’s own immune system. It shows there is a place for naturally derived pharmaceuticals.”

But he warned against horse owners trying to home-brew a remedy.

H&H vet Karen Coumbe said there is a “lot more work to do”.

“I have seen all sorts of treatments getting the credit for curing sarcoids,” she said. “Sometimes they just disappear and there is no scientific proof that the ‘remedy’ was the reason why.

“For instance, 20 years ago, people swore by rubbing on banana skins as a cure! However, this is a credible study and looks interesting so far.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (10 March, 2011)