Cal Poly stem cell study hopes to heal animals

Team of faculty, students is trying to develop procedure to inject cells from a mammal’s tissue back into its body

nwilson@thetribunenews.comAugust 3, 2011 

If research now happening in Cal Poly’s Animal Science Department proves successful, a horse owner could take tissue from a young animal and send it to a company that would isolate and store particular kinds of cells. Those cells could then be used at a later date to treat the horse for an injury, such as a torn ligament.

The work involves preserving stem cells, which have the ability to create more specialized cell types through divisions.

The Cal Poly team is working to use cells isolated from tissue cast off by an animal for future injections back into the animal’s body.

But professors aren’t saying exactly what kind of tissue they’re using in their study because they may patent their work and consider that a competitive concern.

The idea behind the project is that the stem cells would be isolated and then stored in a remote bank. Then those healthy cells would be sent to a veterinarian, who would inject them into the animal from which they came.

The animal would have to be the same because its immune system would mobilize to reject cells originating from another animal.

Faculty members Dan Peterson and Matthew Burd are leading the project, which has included the help of eight students.

Peterson said the team’s research could be applicable in particular to horses that suffer leg pain, such as tendon and ligament damage.

Significant scientific study has been done in this area, and medical companies are using treatments now.

But the Cal Poly researchers say their research differs because it doesn’t involve surgically removing tissue.

“Adult stem cells accelerate the healing process,” Peterson said. “What we’re trying to do is find new ways to use them without having to surgically remove cells and create a new wound on the animal’s body that takes time to heal.”

Adult stem cells are found throughout the body; they replace dying cells and regenerate damaged tissue.

Commonly used methods of getting stem cells by scientists now include extracting the cells from bone marrow, fat tissue and umbilical cord blood.

Peterson said his team isn’t using embryonic stem cells, which are taken from early stage embryos.

That field of study has spurred controversy, typically concerning human embryos and the argument over whether life is being destroyed for scientific use.

But adult stem cells aren’t considered controversial because they’re found after embryonic development.

The work at Cal Poly involves preserving mesenchymal stem cells in animals, a form of adult stem cells attractive for clinical therapy.

On campus, a liquid nitrogen tank stores frozen cell lines at 170 degrees below zero Celsius for use in animals, Peterson said.

The team hasn’t begun testing on animals yet, which is about a year away, he estimates, and will require more research and funding. The professors and students are in the process of working on a scientific journal about their findings.

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