Dr. Jennifer Barrett, assistant professor of surgery at Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center and top biomedical researcher, recently addressed the first-ever North American Veterinary Regenerative Medicine Conference in Buellton, Calif.

The conference, hosted by the University of California at Davis, Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center, and Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, provided a clinically applicable educational experience for veterinary medical experts in this fast-moving field. Regenerative medicine has the potential to optimize healing of many injuries, with an ultimate goal of scar-free healing.

Researchers and practitioners at the conference received new knowledge of innovative therapies and were provided an introduction to the concepts of regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy. Regenerative medicine is still an emerging field, and conference organizers say they wanted participants to understand its promises and limitations and ethically incorporate findings into clinical practices in veterinary medicine.

Barrett's speech, "The Characterization of Tendon Progenitor Cells," explained some of the work her research group at the equine medical center has completed to help understand different sources of stem cells in the body.

"Much of our work focuses on how to regenerate and repair tendons and ligaments, since injuries to these structures can cause chronic lameness," Barrett explained. Often, a diagnosis of lameness which cannot be resolved can lead to a horse being retired or unwanted, she added.

Working in the center's new molecular research lab, Barrett takes stem cells and progenitor cells from the body and studies the cells as they grow in specially prepared nutrient solutions in the incubator. Studying how well the cells grow into specific types of tissues helps Barrett and her team develop ways to influence stem cells to make new tendon.

"Ultimately, we hope our findings will lead to treatments that will regenerate tendon as well as treat an assortment of other injuries and diseases in the future," Barrett said.

At the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, stem cell therapy is currently being offered to treat tendon and ligament injuries as well as some joint injuries.

Plans are underway to organize a North American Regenerative Medicine Society, and Barrett will serve on its Founders' Committee. The next symposium is scheduled to be held in Lexington, Ky., in June 2011.

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