Biomedical sciences professor Dean Betts (right) and doctoral candidate Thomas Koch are hoping to help heal joint injuries in horses by using stem cells to make cartilage tissue replacements.
Picture: Martin Schwalbe
Prof. Dean Betts and doctoral candidate Thomas Koch, Department of Biomedical Sciences, are hoping to use stem cells to improve cartilage healing after joint injuries. They're working with horses, where joint injuries are both common and costly, and say the research could be a model for helping human joint injuries.
"Equine joints are similar to human joints in aspects such as joint thickness and spontaneous athletic injuries, so the research may be transferable," says Koch.
Much of the team's research focuses on perfecting the technique for isolating, expanding and differentiating adult stem cells. They're using blood from the umbilical cord of horses as a source of stem cells. Because most horses are observed when foaling, it's relatively easy to collect the cord blood at that time.
Because there are no other reports on isolating stem cells from equine cord blood, Betts and Koch are eager to gather as much information as possible. Already, they've succeeded in differentiating the cord blood stem cells into three different cell types including chondrocytes - the building blocks of cartilage.
Betts says the three-dimensional structure of cartilage and its attachment to the underlying bone is difficult to reproduce. Despite this, there have been encouraging results using osteochondral grafts - pieces of bone and cartilage grafted to the site of the injury. He hopes further research will reveal more ways to reconstruct the tissue either at the injury site, or as a graft that can be surgically implanted.
This research is supported by Equine Guelph, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and an international research grant from the Danish Research Council.
Equine Guelph is the horse owner and caregiver's Centre at the University of Guelph. Equine Guelph is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of horses through the provision and promotion of research, performance and education.