A cutting-edge therapeutic technique from Germany that uses a horse's own healing resources to alleviate the effects of arthritis is now being tested in this country with promising results.
The treatment, called the Orthokine system, was discussed at the American Association of Equine Practitioners 2004 convention in
Denver, Colorado, by Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, of Colorado State University's Equine Orthopedic Research Center.
The Orthokine system is designed to intercede in the processes that result in osteoarthritis. Exertion can cause inflammation of the joint lining and capsule, as well as wear and tear to articular cartilage, ligaments and underlying bone. Damaged articular cartilage stimulates the production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines, primarily interleukin-1 (IL-1).
The body normally counteracts this inflammation with a natural chemical called interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP), which protects the joint. But when IRAP is overwhelmed, joint disease, pain and eventually osteoarthritis result.
The Orthokine system, which was developed by Orthogen Veterinary in Düsseldorf, Germany, attempts to intervene early in the inflammatory process. After joint inflammation is diagnosed in a specific horse, 50 milliliters of his blood is drawn into a special syringe containing glass beads.
The blood is incubated in the syringe for 24 hours while white blood cells that naturally adhere to the beads are stimulated to produce anti-inflammatory proteins and regenerative protein concentrations. The syringe is then centrifuged and four to six doses of serum are extracted.
The serum, which contains not only IRAP but also natural pain-inhibiting chemicals and growth factors needed in joint repair, is then injected into the inflamed joints of the horse from which it was derived.
Julio Reinecke, DVM, PhD, managing director of Orthogen Veterinary, says that the Orthokine system has been used safely and effectively in preparing the anti-inflammatory serum for individual horses for more than three years in Europe.
Horses with joint arthritis unresponsive to current drug therapies have responded well to Orthokine, he adds, and the therapy has also produced positive results in people.
Meanwhile, clinical studies into the use of Orthokine are ongoing at several facilities in the United States. In addition, McIlwraith and the research team at CSU's Equine Orthopedic Research Center continue their efforts to take therapy a step further.
Their goal is to find a way to deliver an inflammation-fighting protein and growth factors through gene therapy to enable damaged joints to produce and sustain their own anti-inflammatory and cartilage repair proteins.
This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of EQUUS magazine.