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New Stem Cell Lab for Horses Opens at UC Davis Veterinary School

May 18, 2009

Focused on providing the latest in stem cell therapies for horses, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine today opened its new Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

The new laboratory provides a state-of-the art facility for processing, culturing and storing stem cells for use in horses. It is one of only four such university-based veterinary stem cell labs in the nation, providing services to clients and referring veterinarians.

“We are excited to be able to offer this new clinical service to our clients for their horses as a complement to our stem-cell research program,” said Bennie Osburn, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. “Stem cell science is leading us into a new era in human and veterinary medicine.”

In recent years, scientists have made significant advances in using stem cells to treat horses suffering from diseases including colic and neuromuscular degeneration, as well as burns and other injuries. Horses have been one of the first species to benefit from veterinary stem cell therapy because they are prone to many of the injuries that can be successfully treated with such therapy.

“The marvelous thing about stem cell therapy is that it holds the promise of a cure,” said Sean Owens, a veterinary professor and director of the new Regenerative Medicine Laboratory. “We can use pharmacological medicine to alleviate the pain associated with orthopedic injuries in horses, but only with biological medicine such as stem cell therapy can we actually repair the damage that has already been done.”

The research-driven laboratory is expected to yield new knowledge that also will benefit other animal species.

New laboratory

The new Regenerative Medicine Laboratory, located on the first floor of the UC Davis William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, will support the clinical arm of the veterinary stem cell program. Lab personnel will process, culture and store stem cells that have been collected from the hospital’s equine patients to treat injuries.

The laboratory also will provide stem cell collection kits to private veterinarians so that they can harvest stem cells from their equine patients and return the cells to the UC Davis lab for processing or storage. Processed stem cells then will be returned so that the veterinarians can treat their patients. Some horses also will be referred to the teaching hospital for stem cell treatments.

While the costs associated with stem cell processing and treatment will vary from case to case, the fee for processing and expansion of one bone marrow sample will be approximately $1,800. Each sample will be expanded into four therapeutic stem cell doses. One dose will be returned to the submitting veterinarian, while the other three will be stored for future use. The fee for stem cells injections at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital will vary according to the number and frequency of doses administered. For most patients, the fee will be approximately $1,500.

Stem cells and regenerative medicine

Regenerative medicine is the field of human and veterinary medicine that involves creating living, functional tissues to repair or replace tissues or organs that have been damaged by injury, disease, aging or birth defects.

One way to do this is by collecting stem cells, which are unspecialized cells that can be induced in the laboratory to become specialized cell types such as muscle, blood and nerves.

The use of embryonic stem cells has raised much debate in human medicine. It is important to note that the new regenerative medicine program at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital does not use embryonic stem cells, but rather stem cells that have been collected from the horse’s own blood or bone marrow.

“The stem cell, with its ability to recreate, repair or revitalize damaged organs or tissues, is rapidly changing all of medicine," said Gregory Ferraro, a veterinary professor and director of UC Davis’ Center for Equine Health. “The application of stem cell science to treating horses is advancing so quickly that within three to five years, the treatments that are currently being provided for orthopedic repair in athletic horses will seem crude in hindsight.”

Veterinary stem cell team

The Center for Equine Health is coordinating a five-year collaborative research study, now in its second year.

The study is being carried out by a team of 11 UC Davis veterinary researchers, who are working to develop methods for collecting, processing, storing and administering stem cells to repair bone, tendon and ligament injuries in horses. These types of injuries are common problems especially for race horses and other performance horses. The team’s early findings indicate that stem cell treatments may reduce the recurrence of certain tendon and ligament injuries and lessen the progression of arthritis associated with traumatic joint diseases in horses.

This veterinary team, under the direction of professor and equine surgeon Larry Galuppo, also has established a working partnership with the UC Davis Health System’s Stem Cell Program in human medicine, directed by Jan Nolta, a medical school professor and one of the nation’s leading stem cell researchers.

Private and public support

The UC Davis veterinary regenerative medicine program was created with the generous support of Dick and Carolyn Randall, reining-horse enthusiasts from Cupertino, Calif. The Randalls donated core funding to launch a five-year, $2.5 million study of the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells.

The new Regenerative Medicine Laboratory is supported by funding from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the Center for Equine Health.

About UC Davis

For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges -- Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science -- and advanced degrees from six professional schools -- Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

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