The adage says that two heads are better than one. And when it comes to treating equine osteoarthritis, researchers recently showed that two methods—dual-axis gene therapy and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)—might also be better than one.

Ashlee Watts, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, presented the results of her study on the topic at the 2013 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Nashville, Tenn.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a painful, incurable condition primarily characterized by the progressive destruction of articular cartilage. Veterinarians currently have many symptomatic treatment options—which relieve clinical signs, but don’t stop the disease for progressing—such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug therapy. Their disease-modifying treatment options—those that slow, stop, or reverse the degenerative process—for the condition are much more limited, however.

In their recent study, Watts and colleagues tested a combination of dual-axis gene therapy and stem cells injected intra-articularly (directly into the joint) for treating early-stage OA. "Dual axis means that we were utilizing gene therapy to augment stem cells to reduce catabolic (destructive) and increase anabolic (healing) pathways within the joint," she explained.

While gene therapy—using genes to treat or prevent disease—is still in its infancy in equine medicine, stem cell therapy has been used extensively in treating equine injuries. MSCs are multipotent stromal (connective tiss