VetStem launches trial of drug-free method for preventing hemorrhage in horses

Equine athletes such as racehorses are at high risk of developing a dangerous condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). Handlers have long tried to prevent the disorder with the diuretic Lasix (furosemide), but with rising pressure on the horse industry to adopt more humane, drug-free practices, it's unclear how much longer that practice will be accepted.

San Diego-based VetStem Biopharma hopes to be able to offer a drug-free alternative to horse owners concerned about EIPH. The company recently announced that it is launching a trial of a stem-cell based therapy to prevent EIPH in horses who have suffered bleeding episodes in the past. The company will recruit up to 100 horses for the program by the end of the year, according to a press release.

Here's how VetStem's therapy works: The company isolates a variety of stem cells from fat tissue, including endothelial cells, fibroblasts and immune cells. The cells are processed and injected back into the horses, where they reduce inflammation and promote the growth of new blood vessels, according to the company.

VetStem has already tried the procedure on one thoroughbred racehorse and one quarter horse barrel racer. Neither horse suffered a recurrence of EIPH, the company reports. If the expanded phase of the trial succeeds, VetStem will plan a larger study.

VetStem was founded in 2002 with the goal of developing regenerative medicine products for the veterinary field. The company offers personalized stem-cell therapies for pets and horses with osteoarthritis and tendon and joint injuries. It also has a licensing deal with Aratana ($PETX) to develop an off-the-shelf stem-cell treatment for canine osteoarthritis.

- here's the release