Many articles have surfaced recently regarding the use of regenerative medicine to treat tendon and ligament injuries in horses. As someone whose research focus is equine tendon and ligament pathophysiology, I’d like to provide my perspective on the current status of available regenerative treatments.

From 1999-2008, I evaluated 45 horses both clinically and ultrasonograpically for soft tissue injury healing on a monthly basis. The horses followed a set protocol of stall confinement and exercise in a Eurociser (a type of hot walker) at a walk or trot, with time and speed based on clinical findings and ultrasonographic examinations. Variables were type of soft tissue injury and treatment (extracorporeal shock wave therapy [ESWT], platelet-rich plasma [PRP], stem cell therapy, etc.) received. Our working hypothesis was that the regenerative and other treatments applied would be effective. Key findings were:

  • No horse showed a difference in rate or quality of healing after ESWT.
  • After PRP or stem cell treatment, the next ultrasound exam sometimes showed increased healing; however, by the following exam this was not apparent, and by the end of the rehabilitation period stem cell- or PRP-injected horses did not show improved rate or quality of healing compared to horses following a controlled exercise program without other treatment.

These results are not surprising in light of a recent Equine Veterinary Journal paper showing that adult mesenchymal stromal cells (the type currently being used for most stem cell injections in horses) only live for 10 days when injected in damaged tendon and do not migrate, indicating lack of activity. As all successful tendon/ligament injury rehabilitation programs require about eight months of healing time to return to full work, a 10-day life span for injected stem cells is not sufficient to affect tendon healing. Embryonic stem cells lived for 120 days and did migrate, but resea