Regenerative Medicine Helps Horses Heal

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By Tania Millen

Regenerative medicine covers a suite of different technologies that enhance the horse’s natural healing process and help them heal faster. Equine veterinarians have been using regenerative medicine for the past decade to treat joint disease and soft tissue injuries; however, it’s new to many horse owners and only equine veterinarians specializing in sports medicine tend to offer the technologies.

Dr. William (Billy) Hodge, DVM is one of those veterinarians. He’s an associate at Meadow Lane Equine Clinic (MLEC) in Surrey, British Columbia whose focus is equine sports medicine and regenerative medicine. Plus, he’s one of only two veterinarians in Canada who holds certification through The International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology (ISELP). 

Hodge explains that the horse’s body has a natural healing process, but in some cases it is incomplete or short-lived, so regenerative medicine uses the horse’s own healing mechanisms to increase tissue regeneration and thereby enhance healing. “[Regenerative medicine technologies] are by far the most successful methods we have to treat joint disease and promote soft tissue regeneration,” he says.

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Photos (above/below): Dr. Hodge performing ultrasound on a foot and injecting a coffin joint with Pro-Stride. Courtesy of Dr. Hodge

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Although regenerative technologies evolved out of high-end science, the process is fairly straightforward. Blood or other tissue is collected from the injured horse, then specific mechanisms which reduce inflammation and drive healing are harvested from the collected tissue and reinjected into the horse at the injury site. The injected material then encourages the horse’s natural healing mechanisms to turn on in the damaged area, plus helps block inflammation.

“We recommend that regenerative medicine is utilized along with a specific rehabilitation protocol for all injuries,” says Hodge. He then explains that at MLEC regenerative medicine is usually coupled with shockwave and laser treatments to help horses heal faster after surgery, or in cases of acute or chronic joint and soft tissue injuries. 

Related: How to Achieve a Sounder Horse

MLEC offers four regenerative therapies that each have different applications: Interleukin Receptor Antagonist Protein (IRAP) therapy, Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy, Pro-Stride therapy, and Alpha 2 Macroglobulin (Alpha 2 M) therapy. 

IRAP therapy counteracts the action of inflammatory interleukin proteins that are produced when a joint is used excessively and which promote cartilage degeneration and the development of osteoarthritis. So IRAP is typically used to treat mild to moderate cases of osteoarthritis or synovitis. The IRAP process includes collecting a blood sample into a syringe prepared with an agent that stimulates the production of interleukin receptor antagonist proteins. The blood is then incubated and centrifuged to separate it into a cellular portion and a plasma portion containing the IRAP. The IRAP portion is then placed in sterile syringes and stored frozen for future use. For optimal results, the horse is injected three times two weeks apart.

PRP therapy is the treatment of choice for acute tendon and ligament injuries and can be used in joints. It capitalizes on the fact that platelets contain growth factors that optimize healing and support regeneration of tissue that more closely resembles the original injured tissue. So PRP therapy promotes a stronger and more elastic repair, reducing the likelihood of re-injury and improving the horse’s chance of returning to its original athleticism. The PRP therapy process includes collecting some of the horse’s blood then centrifuging it to produce two parts: a cellular portion and a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) portion. The PRP portion is then sterilely injected into the injured area usually on the same day the blood is collected.

Pro-Stride therapy contains both IRAP and PRP so it reduces inflammation, optimizes healing, and supports appropriate tissue regeneration in both soft tissue and intra-articular conditions. Pro-Stride is produced by collecting a sample of the horse’s blood and processing it through specialized devices using a centrifuge. The Pro-Stride product is then sterilely injected into the affected soft tissue or joint usually on the same day as the blood is collected.

Alpha 2 M therapy is a new and exciting therapy that dampens osteoarthritis and the joint’s pain mechanisms, thereby accelerating healing in damaged joints. MLEC is the first veterinary clinic in Canada to offer it to horses.

Related: Equine Sports Medicine

Ultimately, Hodge considers regenerative medicine one of many tools that can help horses heal better and faster and he’s excited to share the applications with his equine clients. “The body can only heal to the best of its best ability,” he says. “So, by using regenerative medicine we can enhance healing and return horses to work with a lower potential for reinjury.” 

Now that’s something horse owners can get excited about.

Related: Podcast - Innovative Research on Equine Lameness

Articles on this website by Dr. Hodge:

To read more articles on this site by this article's author, Tania Millen, click here.

Main Photo: Dr. William (Billy) Hodge. Courtesy of Dr. Hodge



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