Mesenchymal cells. Aspirates. Autologous versus allogenic. What does it all mean? If you’re a bit confused about stem cell therapy–an emerging treatment option for injuries in horses–you’re not alone. These tiny treatment tools are complicated business and a challenge to grasp. At the 2011 North American Veterinary Regenerative Medicine Conference, held June 2-4 in Lexington, Ky., John Peroni, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, of the University of Georgia (UGA), gave horse owners a basic overview of what stem cells are, what they do, and how they might help injured horses heal.

How Tissue Heals

Before delving into the world of stem cells, Peroni, an associate professor of large animal surgery at UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine, reviewed the basics of how tissue heals. In healing, he said, the goal is to "fill the defective area with a tissue that is as close to original as possible" to allow the horse a full return to function. Bone, ligament, and tendon were the three tissues he focused on during his presentation, as they are three areas in which equine stem cells have been used most frequently. Of the three, Peroni indicated that bone cells are the best healers, generally forming the most complete and strongest repair; ligament and tendon cells are more likely to form weaker and more "disorganized" tissue that is more likely to fail after healing.

The first phase of healing is the "inflammatory stage," he explained. During this stage (generally the first five to seven days after injury) the injured tissue releases molecules called cytokines that initiate the healing process and c