Horse stem-cell technique to be tested in people

LONDON Wed Apr 15, 2009 1:53pm EDT

An illustration of a complete tear (rupture) of the Achilles tendon, the strong tendon connecting the calf muscles of the leg to the heel bone, is shown in an athletic shoe. REUTERS/Newscom

An illustration of a complete tear (rupture) of the Achilles tendon, the strong tendon connecting the calf muscles of the leg to the heel bone, is shown in an athletic shoe.

Credit: Reuters/Newscom

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LONDON (Reuters) - A stem-cell repair technique that has already been used to fix hundreds of injured race horses is to be tested for the first time in people with damaged Achilles tendons.

Privately owned British biotech firm MedCell Bioscience Ltd said on Wednesday it would start clinical tests within 12 months and planned to run a larger confirmatory study at several European hospitals in 2011.

Patients will receive injections containing millions of their own stem cells, which have been extracted and multiplied up in a laboratory, and can regenerate new tissue to repair damaged regions.

More than 1,500 race horses have been treated using the same process and follow-up data suggests a 50 percent reduction in re-injury over a three year period, compared with conventional treatment.

"The move from clinical veterinary to human medicine is inspiring and unusual -- we normally see the translation happening the other way around," said Nicola Maffulli, an orthopedic surgeon and leading expert in sports medicine, who will help conduct the trial.

Stem cell therapy has become the odds-on favorite for tackling tendon damage in the world of horse racing, where tendon damage to animals which can be worth millions of dollars is all too common.

The repair technique was pioneered by surgeons at the Royal Veterinary College north of London, who helped set up MedCell as a spin-out company.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Holmes)

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