Friday, December 11, 2009

Stem Cell Video: Lava Man Will Be An 8-Year-Old Gelding Racing on a 3-Year-Old's Ankles

by Fran Jurga | 11 December 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

On Saturday, American horseracing has a chance to welcome back one of its great heroes of recent years, the rags-to-riches California claimer Lava Man. The gelding is coming out of retirement to run in a stakes race and he's probably getting more press for his comeback than he did for winning more than $3 million in purses during his first career. You remember, the one he ran on his original legs.

That's right, Lava Man has been true to his California roots and he's been having some "work done". But it's not his nose or his chin or his thighs that were worked on, but his ankles. The gelding had his own bone marrow stem cells extracted and then injected into his lower limbs to help with some chronic wear-and-tear injuries.

The procedure was done at the lovely Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, California. The clinic is in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara and is the sort of place most horses can only dream of seeing out their their windows when the vans brake to a stop.

Apparently some people are concerned that Lava Man is too old to race, or that the repaired ankles will backfire on him somehow. My guess is that if something backfires, it won't be the ankles. Racing is a young horse's game, but advances in veterinary medicine and sportsmedicine have allowed some senior campaigners to do very well in the sport lately--Commentator and Better Talk Now come to mind, not to mention Pepper's Pride.

Outside of racing, stem cell treatments are pretty standard for horses as old or older than Lava Man. Although every horse and every injury is different, stem cells are routinely injected into the injured legs of mature jumping horses who make comebacks. Consider the British National Hunt campaigner Knowhere, featured on this blog last year. At ten, he came back to jump racing after stem cell treatments on his bowed tendon and his first race was three miles, with 21 fences.

The British stem-cell technology firm VetCell studied 168 national hunt horses and identified that the re-injury rate, following stem cell therapy for superficial digital flexor tendon injury and return to full work, in the three years following treatment is 24 percent compared to 56 percent reported for horses that have undergone more traditional tendon treatment.

Horse racing stories doesn't usually make the New York Times in December, but Lava Man is in there today. The big races are over, the Breeders Cup is fading into a dreamy memory, but on a slow weekend on the slowest month of the racing year, here comes this great old gelding, back to the track to try again. His owners say they are doing it for racing, for his fans, and for him.

Maybe they should add that, if Lava Man succeeds, they are doing it for lots of other older horses that can be managed carefully and correctly into extended careers.

Video courtesy of

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. You only need to ask.

Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page).

To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found.

Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to


Lori said...

I wish the would use this method for my tendons and ligaments

Fran Jurga said...

Hi Lori, me too! I also wish I could go to Alamo Pintado for some r & r!

Actually, the VetCell stem cell technique for horses (and perhaps others) is being profiled for human applications because it has proved to be so safe and successful. VetCell now has a human medicine division in the UK.

So your wish may come true!

marethere said...

Don't hold your breath. You'd be better off traveling to the UK for treatment. Injection of HA into human knee joints were approved relatively recently compared to how long this procedure has been done in horses.

Cynthia Beattie Mcgill said...

Stem cell therapy is set to become a major part of ATS, cancer, hearing loss treatments and of course plastic surgery. The need is however, is to ensure that these are stored in perfect condition before actually getting transplanted to the receiver’s body. This has made the industry of 'controlled rate freezers' to grow at a fast pace to keep up with the demand. I am doing a paper on ‘The Uses of Stem Cell Perseverance and the Techniques of Storing Them’ and found your post valuable.

Cynthia Beattie Mcgill

Greg Princeton said...

I surely agree with you, stem cells are the life givers of human body and their use in the right way will lead to many new discoveries in medical sciences. The research should go on for the betterment of the world community as prevention and cure of many diseases lie in stem cell treatments.

Greg Princeton said...

For stem cell research we should have more openness in testing and funds availability to the organizations. Stem cell treatments are going play a major role and change way of medical sciences in the near future.

Daniel Mcgill said...

Stem cells are the life givers of human body and their use in the right way will lead to many new discoveries in medical sciences. The research should go on for the betterment of the world community as prevention and cure of many diseases lie in stem cell treatments.