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There is a new and exciting branch of emerging medicine known as Regenerative Medicine or Orthobiologics. This approach combines cutting edge technology with the body’s natural ability to heal itself. I feel a bit of a personal connection to these therapies because a classmate of mine has played a leading role in developing a branch of this field.

Dr. Stephen Badylak graduated from Purdue University Veterinary School with me in 1976, and then pursued degrees in Veterinary Pathology with a Masters and PhD, and finally a human medical degree. He is currently the director of Tissue Engineering at the Department of Regenerative Medicine, University of Pittsburgh. He was the lead researcher in developing ACell, which “is a natural environment for cell growth at the site of damage, weakened or missing tissue… The ACell Vet (for animals) scaffold is gradually degraded and reabsorbed, leaving only new tissue where scar tissue would be the typical healing response.” In truth, this scaffold is from pig bladders-yes, pig bladders! The pigs are raised in Indiana in a special environment, and the bladders are harvested, the cells removed, and the remaining scaffold material is processed into a powder or sheets.

A colleague of Dr. Badylak’s at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Constance Chu, is the Director of the Cartilage Restoration Center. She recently received a 1.7 million dollar National Institute of Health grant for her project “Multicenter Cartilage Repair Preclinical Trial in Horses”. She is working with investigators from Cornell University, Colorado State University, and the University of California at San Diego. If the horse trials go well, then Dr. Chu plans to pursue trials in humans within two years. The previously discussed scaffold will be combined with bone marrow-derived stem cells, and stimulated by concentrated growth factors. This is exciting because it has the potential to help horses and humans at the same time. Cartilage repair can repair damaged joints and reduce arthritis, the associated pain, and eventually reduce the need for artificial joints.

Dr. Badylak has discussed the potential for regenerative medicine to repair or even grow new organs, fingers, nerves, and other structures. The future is now, in the sense that this is already being done on a limited basis.

From a personal perspective here at Fox Valley Equine Practice, we are already using several regenerative therapies in the field. Next month, I will discuss how we apply this technology to aid in tissue repair for horses within our practice.