Shock wave therapy on stem cells focus of lameness research


Stimulating stem cells to heal faster through the use of shock wave therapy is part of the exciting new research by a Canadian veterinarian.

Dr Judith Koenig, a clinician, researcher and instructor at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), is investigating whether shock wave therapy performed after injecting stem cells into a tendon will result in better quality healing. Her research team then came up with the idea of pre-treating stem cells with shock wave prior to injection.

Koenig is also leading a clinical trial, currently enrolling thoroughbred racehorses. The trial performs repeated injection of stem cells that have been harvested from umbilical cord blood, frozen and stored in Dr Thomas Koch’s lab. These stem cells are from unrelated horses. Funding from the Ontario Equestrian federation has enabled OVC researchers to also follow a control group treated with platelet-rich plasma as a comparison for this study.

Reduced healing time is an obvious benefit to the welfare of the horse and the horse owner will be pleased about a quicker return to their training régime.

From, left Drs Heather Chalmers, Judith Koenig and Thomas Koch. Photo: University of Guelph
From, left Drs Heather Chalmers, Judith Koenig and Thomas Koch. © University of Guelph

Lameness is a huge focus for Koenig, who is also a rider with a keen interest in helping grassroots riders and upcoming high-performance athletes.

Realizing many will soon be in the position of starting horses back into training after a significant amount of time off, Koenig offers some important advice.

“You need to allow at least a six-week training period for the athletes to be slowly brought back and build up muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness,” she says. “Both stamina and muscle mass need to be retrained.”<

She stressed the importance of checking the horse’s legs for heat and swelling before and after every ride and picking out the feet.  A good period of walking is required in the warm-up and cool down and riders need to pay attention to soundness in the walk before commencing their work out.

Dr Judith Koenig. Photo: University of Guelph
Dr Judith Koenig. © University of Guelph

Koenig’s main area of interest in research is tissue healing, particularly wound and tendon healing. She has investigated the use of different modalities (for example shockwave or stem cells) to see if they accelerate tissue healing and which cellular pathways are affected. This will help to direct treatment of tendon injuries and wounds in horses.

Koenig is originally from Austria and moved to Canada in 1996 after graduating from vet school to gain research experience and complete the research for her MSc. Following a large animal internship at the Ontario Veterinary College, she went to Oregon State University where she did a one-year large animal fellowship. The year in Oregon gave her good exposure to Western Pleasure horses as well as Walking horses, which complemented her previous experience with Sports and Racehorse practice.

She came back to the Ontario Veterinary College where she did a three-year large animal surgery residence with a concurrent graduate degree (DVSc). Koenig became board certified with both the American and European College of Veterinary Surgeons and started to work as faculty in Large Animal Surgery in 2003. Since then she has been working half of the time as a surgeon with a strong interest in Equine Sports Medicine and the other half as researcher and teacher. In 2016, Koenig became a board-certified diplomate for equine sports medicine and rehabilitation.

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