Tiny Plastic Fibers Could Be The Key To Injury Healing In Horses

Tiny plastic fibers one-hundredth the width of a human hair have made it easier for veterinarians to repair hard-to-heal wounds in horses. The nanofibers are woven together to form a scaffold that is used to bridge the gap between the wound’s edges and enable the horse’s cells to fill in the gap, healing the wound quicker and more efficiently. The scaffolds can be produced in sheets, tubes, or cable-like structures, depending on the intended use.

Dr. Jed Johnson, chief technology officer of Nanofiber Solutions in Hilliard, Ohio, developed the practical use of nanofibers for treating horses. His brother, Dr. Galen Johnson in nearby North Lewisburg, Ohio, was one of the first equine veterinarians to use the new technology.

“We use them in hoof wall resections to help repair that wall to speed the motion of cells across the gap,” said Galen Johnson. “Any time there is an absence of normal hoof tissue—so an avulsion that is ripped off or sometimes in the case of laminitis or severe infection, there might be a surgery where we remove part of that hoof wall. Then this fiber can protect the underlying sensitive structure and help the cells to grow over the top of that quicker by providing that scaffold.”

Unlike surgical meshes that become a permanent part of the healed wound, the plastic nanofibers dissolve with time and are absorbed by the body.

The horse’s own stem cells can be used in conjunction with the nanofiber scaffold to encourage better healing.

Johnson also uses the nanofiber scaffold as what he calls “a poor man’s skin graft” for gaping wounds that otherwise would be a challenge to heal.

“We’ve used them primarily for skin repair—bad lacerations that can’t be sewn together or defects that are too large and the skin edges don’t meet,” he explained. “In a horse, the time they are convalescing and bandaging are big expenses, so the faster we can make that repair, the better. So we’ll use the nanofibers as a sheet and just cut it to fit the void and lay it in between the skin edges. It seems like it really has shortened the healing time for us.”

NanoWhiskers™ injectable cell scaffolds come preloaded in sterilized vials

Dr. Sammy Pittman of Innovative Equine Podiatry and Veterinary Services in Collinsville, Texas, uses nanofiber technology for lower-leg wounds and hoof wall resections, when the damaged or dead portion of the hoof wall is cut away so new hoof wall can grow in its place. This application has been especially beneficial for horses with laminitis.

“Typically in laminitis cases, once I determine they need a hoof wall resection, I pull the wall off and then I bandage it for two or three days to make sure it is all healing nicely,” Pittman said. “Once I get a nice, healthy bed of granulation tissue, then I’ll put nanofibers on there. The nanofiber is basically a scaffolding or matrix for existing cells to attach and migrate across, and it sort of incorporates into the wound bed.”

Pittman described the process in layman’s terms.

“Instead of walking across a single-rope bridge across the Grand Canyon, you’re riding a bicycle across a four-foot sidewalk. You’re going to get there faster just because it’s easier to get across the wound bed,” he said.

Pittman also used nanofibers to heal large rundown wounds over the flexor tendons on the back of a horse’s front legs. In this first-time experimental use, Pittman placed nanofibers over the wound on one leg but not the other, to see how healing compared. The leg treated with nanofibers healed 30 to 40 percent faster, he said.

The real test of the technology came in 2012 when Ranch Hand Rescue in Argyle, Texas, enlisted a team of veterinarians to treat an abandoned horse with a severe hoof injury. A portion of the 2-year-old Quarter Horse’s hoof wall was ripped off along with a piece of its coffin bone, and the front of the coffin bone was severely infected. To complicate matters, the horse, named Phoenix, suffered an earlier bout of laminitis that caused its coffin bone to rotate and its flexor tendon to contract.

Team leader Dr. John Bittner of Argyle Veterinary Hospital judged the horse had only a 15 percent chance of survival. Normally, a horse with these odds is euthanized, but Phoenix’s will to live, quiet disposition, and willingness to cooperate with treatment convinced everyone involved to try to save him.

Pittman and renowned equine podiatrist Dr. Ric Redden in Versailles, Ky., were called in to collaborate on the treatment strategy. Redden suggested using nanofibers, which then was a new technology that never had been used for this type of injury. Redden felt it would help combat muscle contracture and scar-tissue formation that are common complications with deep-flexor-tendon surgery (tenotomy). Dr. Jed Johnson consulted on the use of the nanofiber technology.

“We did a deep flexor tenotomy and then we impregnated the nanofibers with some of the horse’s stem cells,” Pittman said. “Then when we cut the tendon, we sutured it in place in that tendon gap.”

A problem with tenotomy surgeries is that tendons often do not knit together in a proper fiber pattern during healing, so this was a concern for the team. But when Bittner monitored Phoenix’s healing process via ultrasound, he found the tendon healed in a more linear fashion and a correct way with the use of nanofibers.

Seven months after the six-hour surgery, Phoenix had grown a healthy hoof capsule and his tendon had healed properly and functioned normally.

Nanofiber Solutions is developing other veterinary applications for its technology, such as a solution of stem cells and ground-up nanofibers that can be injected into arthritic joints.

The post Tiny Plastic Fibers Could Be The Key To Injury Healing In Horses appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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