Plasma and Serum-based Technologies in the Equine Health Industry
by Dr. Joy Campbell
Most of us are familiar with the risks of stress and injury a performance horse faces simply by doing its job. Fortunately, the equine health industry is always evolving, and over the last decade, plasma- and serum-based technologies have emerged that are showing great promise in supporting horses by reducing inflammation, helping with tissue repair, and easing the stress associated with the rigors of training and competing.
Three technologies horse owners are relying on more and more to help their horses achieve optimal health and performance are Platelet-rich plasma (PRP), Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist Protein (IRAP), and most recently serum-based bioactive proteins in oral supplement form. Each of these technologies is prepared and administered differently but have the common thread of plasma—a substance valued in human and animal health applications for its proven ability to biologically support tissue healing.
Platelet-rich plasma is an autologous biological therapy, which means it utilizes a horse’s own blood for the treatment of acute soft-tissue and ligament injuries. PRP uses anabolic effects, which means it stimulates protein synthesis within cells to support tissue healing and regeneration.
The components of PRP include platelets, growth factors, and plasma proteins. The predominant growth factors in platelets include transforming growth factor beta (TGF-B) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEDF).
PRP treatment involves harvesting the horse’s own blood and filtering the plasma to reduce the red and white blood cells and concentrating the platelets to a level higher than whole blood. The remaining platelet-rich plasma is then injected back into the horse at the injury site to enhance cellular tissue repair. PRP is typically used in conjunction with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications.
Interleukin-1 Receptor Antagonist Protein (IRAP) is an autologous biological therapy used in horses with joint inflammation or mild to moderate osteoarthritis. Interleukin-1 is an inflammatory mediator that is released in response to an injury. IRAP is used to help inhibit the inflammation caused by IL-1. This reduction in inflammation helps tissue repair.
IRAP is made when whole blood from the horse is collected in a syringe or container that holds specifically designed beads, which interact with the monocytes (white blood cells) in the blood. The product is centrifuged and filtered to produce the desired IRAP product. The IRAP is then separated into several doses that will be injected over time into the affected joint. Initial use of IRAP in horses has been to help improve lameness, reduce joint swelling, and improve range of motion of the joint. IRAP is often used in conjunction with periodic cortisone injections, rest and ice.
A couple of drawbacks to PRP and IRAP are that both therapies must be prepared and administered by a veterinarian, and both can be labor intensive and possibly expensive depending on the number of injections required.
Serum-based bioactive proteins in oral supplement form
Orally dosed serum-based bioactive protein supplements are new to the horse world but the science is decades old. The supplements are used daily to help performance horses combat the effects of stress experienced as a result of working, training, traveling and competing. Ongoing stress activates a horse’s immune system, triggering inflammation that can show up as joint soreness, breathing issues related to exercise, and digestive issues. Serum-based bioactive proteins address all of these issues, typically within 14 days.
By dosing horses orally a multisystemic effect takes place that helps to support the horse through times of stress, inflammation, gut dysfunction, and joint mobility issues. These pelleted supplements contain serum-based proteins which are derived from components of bovine blood. The blood is sourced from federally inspected processing plants, and is centrifuged to isolate the plasma, which is then fractioned into a concentrated serum that preserves specific proteins known to support and maintain normal immune and inflammatory responses. The serum is thermally treated, dried, and analyzed to meet quality specifications to produce the serum-based proteins. When administered to horses, serum-based bioactive proteins support and maintain a healthy immune system, reduce inflammation, improve gut dysfunction, and improve range of motion.
Overall, the bioactive proteins isolated in these blood fractions have important qualities supporting horses during the recovery from many types of stress. Orally-dosed bioactive serum proteins are less invasive because they do not require blood to be collected, processed and reinjected back into the horse. , Research continues to advance the use of these unique proteins, giving horse owners more science based options for helping their horses to overcome physical setbacks.