Stem Cells are not Horseplay. From
By Brent Tubbs
Special to The Record
IONE - Lost Trail Ranch sits on a beautiful, oak-studded 45-acre hillside. It is surrounded by open rangeland and expansive views.
And it is ideal horse country.
Owner Dick Randall runs about 50 horses across the property, many of them with a bit more in common: They've been treated with fat-derived stem cells to cure injuries. Using advanced bio-science technology, the ranch has become a place where hurt show horses get a second life.
Lost Trail is where good equine health is found.
The journey from typical California ranch to cutting-edge research facility started more than 20 years ago when the Randall family took a vacation to a dude ranch in Montana - and daughter Tiffany, 7 at the time, fell in love with cowboys and riding horses.
"She liked horses, dad got involved, we started showing competitively ... and those were the happiest days of my life," Dick Randall said.
About 10 years ago, with Tiffany off to college at the University of Southern California, Randall purchased an expensive show horse, Hustler Starlight. But there was a problem.
"We rode him for about two weeks, and he came up lame," Randall said.
Randall sought out veterinarians and specialists, but settled on a veterinarian in Gardnerville, Nev.
"I was not happy," Randall said. "I paid a lot of money for Hustler Starlight, and now I was going to go a long way to have a vet in Nevada look at him."
The payoff came almost before Hustler Starlight was led off the trailer.
Veterinarian Marty Gardner diagnosed the horse as having a torn ligament in a hind leg - normally a career-ending injury.
Gardner suggested a company called Vet-Stem based in San Diego. The regenerative veterinarian medicine company had been working with fat-derived - not embryonic - stem cells to cure such injuries in dogs, cats and horses.
Vet-Stem works like this:
A sample of the animal's own fat cells are collected from their backside, then sent to the therapy firm to be processed. All the "good" cells are covered and then duplicated. They are put into an injection-ready syringe and sent to the horse's owner.
Vet-Stem uses fat-derived cells because humans and horses alike carry an abundance of such cells in their fatty tissue. Those cells can be injected directly into the location of an injury and, within a week or so, the wound is healed.
"When you look at a tendon that's been treated with stem cells, there is no scar tissue," Randall said.
He was so impressed with the results that he and his family invested financially in Vet-Stem. And he was introduced to veterinary professors at the University of California, Davis, who wanted to investigate further the advantages to using fat-derived stem cells.
Through a major donation from Randall and his wife, Carolyn, UC Davis was able to build a veterinary regenerative-medicine program. It is in its third year and advances reportedly are being made.
Now, Lost Trail treats three to five horses a month with stem cells.
"There's never been a horse that we've treated for soft tissue (injuries) that didn't go back to show. That, to me, is success," Randall said.
The treated horses are getting a second life in competition thanks to their own cells working for them.
Hustler Starlight, the 10-year-old horse that started it all, retired from competition last year with numerous awards.
He still is being ridden and cared for nearby. A friend and cancer survivor rides Hustler Starlight these days.
Dick Randall says he believes - and is enthusiastic - that fat-derived stem cells can and will help humans one day. But "that's down the road, for someone else to work on," he said.