Lava Man is a race horse that has had quite a career: he has earned more than $5.2 million and was considered one of the top racehorses in North America. Unfortunately, the recent past has not been to kind to him. Last year he finished last in the 2008 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar, and previous to that he has lost a series of six races in a row. Lava Man had arthritis in the joints in his ankles and a small fracture in his left front leg, Being 7 years old at that time, his owners decided it was time for Lava Man to retire.
However it seems like Lava Man’s fortunes may have changed. 17 months after his last race, he is scheduled to make a come-back this Saturday at Hollywood Park in the Native Diver Handicap. The horse was treated with his own fat derived stem cells by Dr. Doug Herthel, who stated:
"The trainer is the only one who can tell you how he’s going to run Saturday, but as far as the way he looks and based on our experience with other horses, theoretically, he should be much better than he was," said Dr. Doug Herthel, who treated Lava Man at the Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, Calif.
"We think of those stem cells as little paramedics," Herthel said. "They go in and they help; they enhance the health of the cartilage." Dr. Herthel stated that significant improvements have occurred in Lava Man following stem cell therapy. He also stated that if Lava Man makes a triumphant return due to stem cells, this would not be the first case of this occurring. He cited the example of Ever A Friend , a 6-year-old horse, who was injured in May 2008, received the same type of fat derived stem cells as Lava Man and returned to win an allowance race and finish second in the Grade I Citation Handicap.
The fat derived stem cells that are being used in the treated of horses appear to work through several mechanisms. On the one hand they can become new cartilage and bone tissue directly, while on the other hand the stem cells producing various growth factors that accelerate the process of healing. Another method, that is more debated amongst scientists, is that the stem cells can actually produce enzymes that degrade scar tissue and allow replacement with functional tissue.
Human use of fat stem cells has been performed for multiple sclerosis (Riordan et al. Non-expanded adipose stromal vascular fraction cell therapy for multiple sclerosis. J Transl Med. 2009 Apr 24;7:29) and is currently being investigated for other conditions such as heart failure and rheumatoid arthritis.