This story marks the first time I’ve had to use a pseudynm to protect the identity of a horse.

“Disney’s” owner’s desire for privacy only underscores the stakes here. Performance horses at his level can be worth $60,000 and more. Training, too, is an enormous investment. “Gretchen,” as we call her in the piece, has spent years training Disney in English dressage (which, incidentally, makes for some very entertaining YouTube viewing if you have some time to kill). And so when she noticed that her horse’s gait had started to suffer, she jumped to find a treatment.

Speed is key here, it was explained to me, because the smaller the injury, the better a horse’s chance for recovery. Emphasizing that point is one of the main reasons Gretchen agreed to take part in this program. She says too many owners treat their horses’ injuries with ever-greater doses of painkillers, delaying real treatment until it’s too late. Gretchen estimated that, including all the preliminary visits and tests, Disney’s treatment may reach $7,000.

Davis vets couldn’t provide statistics on whether this treatment – injecting a horse’s mesenchymal stem cells, drawn from the marrow of the animal’s sternum, into the same animal’s torn tendon – succeeds in producing new tendon tissue. (Part of the problem is that it’s hard to distinguish tendon tissue from scar tissue, seen through an ultrasound.) But if it works, they believe humans may one day have another option for treating our torn ligaments, too.

Listen to the Stem Cells and Horses radio report online, and watch our Web Extra Slideshow.

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Reporter’s Notes: Stem Cells and Horses 12 June,2013Amy Standen

  • Anne Fairbairn

    Thank you for airing this story! I appreciate the many things brought up, especially the distinction between adult stem cell therapy and embryonic stem cell therapy*.

    I would like to discuss a point that you brought up, something to the effect of “other than a few exceptions (bone marrow & skin grafts), this therapy has been denied to humans.” (I’m not really quoting you, Amy, with these quotation marks, by the way.)

    Many human trials have actually yielded quite promising results.

    I also appreciated the mentioning that adult stem cell therapies have the huge benefit of lack of tissue rejection issues, since the stem cells are derived from the animal/human patient. To my knowledge (as a highly interested lay person), this has been a major problem in embryonic therapies (rejection, as well as tumor formation).

    Incidentally, umbilical cord blood is a wonderful source of non-embroyonic stem cells. I’m hoping that the collection of it becomes easier (can we hope for “routine”??); when I checked into it 7-8 years ago, someone had to deliver their baby in Oakland, or something like that (the procedure wasn’t available in the Fremont area).

    If you, the Quest staff, and the listeners, would like to read more about these therapies, please access the following links.

    The “Archives” link to subsequent past issues of the newsletter will yield many more individual cases, but I’ve not the time to wade through them at the moment.

    A bit more information is on this link from California Right to Life’s website:

    (Page down a bit for the question: “What about adult stem cells?”)

    Thanks again!

    *I wince every time I, as a pro-lifer, hear that the pro-life community is against stem cell therapy, and not specifying “embroyonic”.

  • The argument between adult and embryonic stem cells may become moot in the near future anyway. A huge amount of progress has been made in turning a patient’s cells back into embryonic-like stem cells (called induced pluripotent or iPS stem cells). Now there would be no harvesting of embryos and no tissue rejection. Click here for more details.

  • Mikey

    Nice discussion… especially Barry’s explanation about making stem cells..


Amy Standen

Amy Standen (@amystanden) is co-host of #TheLeapPodcast (subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher!) and host of KQED and PBSDigital Studios' science video series, Deep Look.  Her science radio stories appear on KQED and NPR.

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