New findings could see lasting improvements in stem cell therapy in horses

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An image of the equine endometrium by fluorescence microscope analysis. Stem cells (green coloured) were identified using a stem cell marker. Photo: Elisabeth Rink/University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
An image of the equine endometrium by fluorescence microscope analysis. Stem cells (green coloured) were identified using a stem cell marker. Photo: Elisabeth Rink/University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna

A less invasive way of collecting stem cells from horses for use in tissue repair has been identified by researchers.

Mesenchymal stem cells are multipotent cells found in a number of tissues that can develop into various cell types, providing enormous potential for regenerative medicine.

Stem cells have been used therapeutically in horses for about 15 years as a treatment option for tendon and joint injuries. They are commonly obtained surgically from bone marrow or fat tissue.

Researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, have for the first time managed to harvest them from the mucous membrane of the equine uterus. This removes the need for surgery, providing an alternative with reduced pain and stress for the animals.

The work was carried out at the university’s Centre for Artificial Insemination and Embryo Transfer Laboratory. Testing has shown that the cells taken from the uterus lining can grow into cartilage and other tissues.

The cells can be collected using small instruments inserted via the cervix.

“While the human endometrium is known to harbour stem cells, these had previously not been identified in the equine endometrium,” said Elisabeth Rink and Christine Aurich, who work at the centre.

The two researchers were part of an international team with Xavier Donadeu, from the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, and Hilari French, from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Their findings have been published in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy.

For the study, uterine tissue samples were collected from six mares. The team then separated suspected stem cells from endometrial epithelial cells and expanded these in cell cultures.

The isolated cells were then identified as potential stem cells using various molecular biology techniques.

“The laboratory analyses, such as immunohistochemistry, genetic analysis and flow cytometry, aimed to identify the stem cells through specific cell markers, that is, the expression of genes and the presence of certain surface proteins,” explained first author Elisabeth Rink.

For comparison with the endometrial cells, stem cells obtained from the bone marrow by traditional surgical techniques were analysed in the same way.

Cells obtained from the uterus clearly expressed the same markers as bone marrow stem cells. Furthermore, the scientists were able to show in cell culture conditions that the endometrial stem cells differentiated into fat, bone, cartilage and muscle cell lines.

“The endometrium provides a source of mesenchymal stem cells that can be easily accessed with little stress to the animals,” Aurich said.

“The cell culture results show that these cells can be of benefit not only in the treatment of uterine conditions, but that they can also replace the need for surgically obtained stem cells for therapeutic purposes in other tissue types.”

Isolation and characterization of equine endometrial mesenchymal stromal cells
B. Elisabeth Rink, Karin R. Amilon, Cristina L. Esteves, Hilari M. French, Elaine Watson, Christine Aurich and F. Xavier Donadeu.
Stem Cell Research & Therapy 2017 8:166 DOI: 10.1186/s13287-017-0616-

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can he read here

Earlier Horsetalk report

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