By: The Canadian Press
Posted: 02/28/2011 5:08 PM
MONTREAL – A Canadian-led research team has derived transformative stem cells from a horse, which they hope will help speed healing of injured animals and provide a model for better understanding and possibly treating similar problems in people.
Led by Andras Nagy of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and Dr. Lawrence Smith of the University of Montreal’s faculty of veterinary medicine, the team also included researchers from Pittsburgh and Kyoto, Japan. Their findings were published Monday in the journal Stem Cell Reviews and Reports.
Researchers generated induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, from a horse fetus taken from a mare at a Quebec slaughterhouse.
What makes iPS cells distinct is that they can develop into most other cell types. The cells have potential for use in regenerative medicine, as well as development of new drugs in both preventing and treating various illnesses. The hope of regenerative medicine is to create tissues that could repair or replace organs or other tissue lost due to disease or damage.
Smith said iPS cells are usually available only in very early-stage embryos. As the embryo develops, the cells give rise to different tissues — and once the change occurs, they can’t go back. By introducing reprogramming genes into the cells, the researchers were able to revert them back into embryonic cells.
While iPS cells have been derived from various species, including humans, this study is billed as the first in which such cells were generated from horses.
“Our hope is that these cells, because they have this pluripotent characteristic, they will be able to differentiate into all of these tissues: muscle, tendons, cartilage and bone,” said Smith, Canadian Research Chair in Animal Cloning and Stem Cells.
“By doing that, we will be able to reintroduce them into an animal that has been injured so that the animal will recover much faster than he could.”
Smith said in many cases such injuries would typically be impossible to cure, leading horses with a broken leg, for example, to be euthanized.
“With these cells, we’re hoping that we’ll be able to accelerate the process of recovery and thereby save a lot of animals that are injured in different kinds of sports races or jumping or recreation,” he said in an interview Monday from Saint-Hyancinthe, Que.
Smith said there are many problems in humans for which there are no treatments at this point, mostly because there aren’t good animal models to test new therapies. The muscle and tendon systems of horses are similar to humans.
By using equine stem cells in horses, researchers want to see if they can cure these injuries. If that’s the case, Smith said they suspect human iPS cells could do the same for problems in people.
“Having access to the horse that has very similar injuries to humans, we could test these treatments and thereby hopefully help whenever we decide to use these cells in humans,” he said.