Stem cell therapy has been widely used in the treatment of musculoskeletal diseases and injuries in horses for around 20 years, and continues to be the forefront of managing many of these conditions.

These cells are taken from the horse itself, processed, and then injected back into the horse, directly into the affected area. Here's a quick guide to what it's all about:

What are stem cells?

These are cells within the body that are capable of transforming into any (pluripotent) or many, related (multipotent) cell types.

Whilst these occur in many different locations, they are typically harvested from bone marrow of the hip or chest, or from fat around the tail head.

Following the harvesting procedure they can be processed and then injected back into the patient immediately, or, more commonly, they can be sent to a laboratory for further processing, resulting in a purer and more concentrated product to inject into the affected area.

How do stem cells work?

Once injected into an injured area, stem cells reduce inflammation, encourage formation of new blood vessels and ‘recruit’ resident stem cells to transform into new cells of the injured tissue type, increasing the speed at which healing occurs and the quality of healing of the new tissues.

What are they used for?

As mentioned above, the greatest use of stem cell therapy is in treatment of musculoskeletal disease, most commonly injuries to soft tissues such as tendon or ligament injuries.

Other indications may include osteoarthritis and joint disease, or as a component of fracture repair.

Tendon and ligament injuries make up the bulk of stem cell use in horses as these tissues are notoriously slow to repair and may heal with tissue that is weaker than the original, so is prone to re-injury.

Whilst not every injury and not every horse will benefit from the use of stem cells, they can play an important role in improved repair of many of the injuries sustained by horses.

Despite great progress in regenerative medicine through stem cells and other approaches, a tailored rehabilitation program, including controlled exercise, is still essential.

The severity and nature of the injury as well as various individual horse criteria will help you and your vet find the right approach for you.