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Posted: June 01, 2009

Small biz tech-startup: Advanced Regenerative Therapies

Stem cell treatments for horses

Eric Peterson

INITIAL LIGHT BULB:
The genesis of Advanced Regenerative Therapies came when Colorado State University experts cross-pollinated their expertise in tissue regeneration and equine orthopedics. Dr. John Kisiday, who specializes in the former, came to CSU in 2005 and connected with Dr. Dave Frisbie, a specialist in the latter at CSU’s Equine Orthopaedic Research Center. Frisbie and Kisiday work at the center, a clinical and basic science group founded by Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, the director of orthopaedic research at CSU.

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T.K. Pope, Dr. John Kisiday, Dr. Dave Frisbie and Cristin Keoghan

“We thought of ways we could take advantage of my knowledge of cell culture and their knowledge of orthopedic conditions in animals,” Kisiday says. The duo began finding subjects in the form of adult horses with arthritis and core lesions in their Achilles tendons. After extracting adult stem cells from these horses’ bone marrow and growing them in a lab, they would inject them into the area of orthopedic impairment. “It was and still is an experimental procedure,” Kisiday says.

However, early data is impressive: After two years of therapy, 10 of the first 15 subjects regained function in areas previously afflicted by arthritis and other conditions.

The success overwhelmed the capacity of Kisiday and Frisbie’s facilities at CSU, so they spun it off in fall 2007 with the help of Cristin Keohan, ART lab director and Kisiday’s wife. The company is owned by a number of shareholders, most of them equine veterinarians who are also customers.

IN A NUTSHELL:
For $1,500, ART provides vets a “user-friendly” means of extracting stem cells from the bone marrow of adult horses. The cells are put on ice and shipped overnight to ART’s Fort Collins lab, where they are grown for two to three weeks, frozen and returned to their parent horse for therapy.

Most horses undergoing ART’s treatments with arthritis and other orthopedic conditions gained what is called a “return to function.”

“The clinical symptoms decreased to the point where the horse could go back to doing the activities it was doing prior to the onset of the condition,” Kisiday says. “Right now, we’re very pleased with the results.”

But Kisiday and Frisbie consider ART first and foremost a means of furthering their scientific research. “We want to make sure we can direct the research to an appropriate condition and do some good,” Kisiday says. “We’ve taken a relatively conservative approach to bringing on new customers.”

ART’s second initiative is developing therapies for dogs with similar orthopedic conditions next. Ultimately, ART’s findings could pave the way for treating humans with stem cells likewise sourced from their own bone marrow. “Horses have some of the same orthopedic issues that humans do. (Similar therapies) could translate to humans.”

Because ART’s therapies are based on injecting adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells, they were never affected by the Bush administration ban on federal funding recently lifted by President Obama.

Dr. Chad Devitt of the VRCC Veterinary Hospital in Englewood has been treating about 10 arthritic dogs with stem-cell therapies. After a month, Devitt expresses “cautious optimism” about the therapy’s efficacy. “There are definitely improvements … but it’s a little early to tell.”

Devitt is impressed with ART as a company. “They’re extremely responsive,” he says.

THE MARKET:
ART targets horse veterinarians all over the country, who in turn offer the company’s therapies to their customers. Roughly 2 million people own 10 million horses in the United States.

FINANCING:
To date, ART has been financed by a group of shareholders that includes the founders. Kisiday says the company is not pursuing any outside investment as of now. “We’re trying to grow slowly and systematically,” he says.

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Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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