A ‘promising’ gene therapy could offer faster and more effective treatment for lameness in horses, scientists say.
An international team injected DNA into the tendons and ligaments of horses that were lame as a result of injury. Within two to three weeks, the horses were able to walk and trot, and after two months, they were back to full health, galloping and competing.
The results also showed that the tissue within the limbs had fully recovered. Twelve months after treatment, the horses were completely fit, active and pain free.
Scientists used a combination of the vascular endothelial growth factor gene (VEGF164), to enhance blood vessel growth, and the bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP2), which is important for bone and cartilage development.
Both genes were derived from horses and cloned into a single plasmid DNA, which is biologically safe and unlikely to provoke an immune reaction from the body.
The research team believe this gene therapy could offer a much faster healing time, whilst significantly reducing relapse rates. Current medical therapies have a relapse rate of 60 per cent. Even the best regenerative medicine treatments have a 20 per cent relapse rate and take five or six months to work.
Lead author Professor Albert Rizvanov, from Kazan Federal University, said: “Advancing medicine, relieving pain and restoring function were the main aims of this study. We have shown that these are possible and within a much shorter time span than treatments available at the moment.”
In addition, scientists reported that no side effects or adverse reactions were seen in the horses who received treatment.
These findings not only have implications for veterinary medicine, they could also advance treatments for humans. Scientists say this type of therapy could be used in other injuries and situations, ranging from fertility problems to spinal cord injuries.
Dr Catrin Rutland, who led the work at University of Nottingham, said: “This pioneering study advances not only equine medicine but has real implications for how other species and humans are treated for lameness and other disorders in the future. The horses returned to full health after their injuries and did not have any adverse side effects. This is a very exciting medical innovation.”
The next step is to secure funding for a larger trial.