A Stable Recovery
Corfield, Sue, The Independent (London, England)
Science Doctors use donor schemes to help save patients' lives. Now vets can too - and they're healing cats and dogs as well as thoroughbred horses, as Sue Corfield explains
Few sporting spectacles can match the drama of 40 horses thundering at 30mph towards Becher's Brook in the Grand National. As a horse lands after jumping one of these awe-inspiring fences, the force on its tendon has been measured at one tonne per sq cm, so it's little wonder that tendon and knee injuries are among the most common sustained by race horses. Indeed, injuries like these can mean the end of a horse's racing career, but now advances in veterinary medicine mean that a horse may once again achieve its former level of fitness.
National Hunt racehorse Dream Alliance suffered severe tendon damage during the 2008 Grand National, but following stem-cell therapy he went on to win the Welsh Grand National in 2009 and is still racing today.
Advances in veterinary medicine mean that orthopaedic surgery is becoming increasingly commonplace for animals suffering from severe disabilities and injuries.
For us humans, this is not a new concept and is used in many procedures. The NHS runs a human tissue bank, which uses tissue donated for transplant by people when they are alive or after their deaths for use in transplant procedures to treat many conditions.
For example, patients may need a transplant to replace diseased or damaged bone and tendons, heal severe wounds caused by burns, replace diseased heart valves or repair a deformity in a child's heart or to replace diseased or damaged corneas.
Now dogs, cats, horses and even more exotic species can also get a new lease of life, thanks to a tissue donation programme established by Veterinary Tissue Bank to help animals in need of tissue transplants.
Veterinary Tissue Bank, the UK's first ethical animal donor programme, has been driven forward by veterinary surgeons John Innes, professor of surgery at University of Liverpool Veterinary School and Peter Myint, who has extensive experience in managing and developing tissue banks for human procedures.
So far, the scheme has proved highly successful in helping pets and companion animals in need of life-saving and life-enhancing surgery. Cruciate ligament injuries are the most widely known, common injuries to benefit from surgery. Overweight and large dogs, such as Labradors and Rottweilers, are particularly prone to these injuries and with these breeds living longer, orthopaedic surgery is becoming more popular.
Until now, a major stumbling block to successful correction of some injuries has been finding suitable bone and tissue to graft on to the injury. As a result, most grafts had to be taken from the injured animal in a procedure known as autograft. Now, bone and soft tissue is being taken from donor pets in a method called allograft.
Tia, an eight year-old Labrador bitch, was the first pet in the UK to benefit from a cartilage knee joint transplant - a procedure known as meniscal transplant - that replaces the wedge-shaped cartilage of the knee joint using donor tissue. She had suffered a severe injury to her knee joint following a car accident last year and her vet referred her to Patrick Ridge from Devon-based Ridge Referrals.
After examination using a miniature camera inserted into the joint to visualise the extent of the damage, Ridge felt Tia was an ideal candidate for knee cartilage replacement surgery. Keyhole surgery was conducted to remove the injured tissue and insert therapeutic agents.
Veterinary Tissue Bank provided the healthy tissue for transplantation into Tia's knee joint, making her the first dog in the UK to receive a meniscal transplant. Mirroring the same principles and many of the supply problems as human tissue donation, the tissue bank needs owners to come forward to donate their deceased pets' soft tissue and bone tissue so that it can be supplied to veterinary surgeons throughout the UK and Europe for allografts. …