Petplan Charitable Trust has awarded a grant to PhD student, Yasmin Paterson, to allow her to investigate stem-cell based therapy for horses with tendon injuries.
In April 2019, Paterson was awarded the Walter and Dorothy Plowright Memorial Prize for Young Researchers through the Veterinary Research Club.
Tendon injuries are one of the most common forms of orthopaedic injuries in horses, affecting all disciplines. However, despite a multitude of available treatments, over half of the horses which have this type of injury will go on to re-injure. According to Paterson, this is down to the way in which adult tendons heal, forming functionally deficient scar tissue.
“Interestingly, this is in complete contrast to how fetal tendons heal,” she says. “They have this remarkable ability to heal without forming any scar tissue. This property is intrinsic to the fetal cells themselves. My research is therefore looking at whether we could use a stem cell-based therapy to try and improve adult tendon healing and mimic that of fetal tendons.’
PPCT grant has enabled the team to use cutting-edge sequencing techniques
Stem cells have the ability to turn into all the cell types in the body. The question was whether the stem cells in Paterson’s study would turn into tendon cells that were more similar to adult or fetal tendon cells.
“This may tell us if they would be useful therapeutically,” explains Paterson. Without the additional funding we received from the PPCT, this project would not have been possible.
‘I am currently in the final year of this study. We have definitely generated some really interesting results which strengthens the evidence that our stem cells may, in fact, prove very useful in the future!’
The PPCT grant has enabled the team to use cutting-edge sequencing techniques to compare cell types in much greater depth than would have been possible with just her PhD funding alone.
‘It has also allowed me to attend both national and international conferences. This has allowed me to network with other scientist and increase the awareness of the Animal Health Trust and the vital research we do.’
‘My first pet was a lizard called Stumpy’
Paterson is passionate about horses both inside and outside the lab. She finally acquired her first horse three years ago, describing that day as one of her happiest:
‘Totem is a handsome 16.2hh Hanoverian. He is the perfect schoolmaster and I am learning so much from him.’
She has loved animals all her life, although her father was always adamant that she was not allowed any pets.
‘However, after the umpteenth night in a row of him finding plastic toy animals in his bed my ‘subtle’ persuasion finally won him over. My first pet was a lizard. I named him Stumpy as he had a bit missing from the end of his tail!’ she says.
‘After that there was no going back, and I had numerous pets over the years. Easter was always my favourite time of year. It meant a trip down to my Aunty Marian’s farm in Devon. For two weeks I would be up at the crack of dawn helping muck out the horses, feeding the geese, collecting the hen’s eggs and helping out with all the daily yard chores.’
‘My fascination with equine tendon healing began at the Animal Health Trust‘
No surprise, then, that she was determined to study Veterinary Science at university.
‘Whilst at university in Glasgow, I was selected to undertake an industrial master’s placement, which I carried out at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket in the lab of Dr Debbie Guest,’ explains Paterson.
‘This is where my fascination with equine tendon injury and healing began. Several years and jobs later, I decided that I just had to return to Debbie’s lab. After successfully applying to the Cambridge University’s BBSRC’s doctoral training programme, I managed to return to carry out my PhD project.’
So, what are her ambitions for the future?
‘The search for treatments for career ending tendon injuries is really my passion, and so my immediate plan for the future is to try and continue this crucial work by applying for fellowship funding to investigate further some of the findings from my PhD. In terms of my long-term goal, I want to help pave the way to seeing this science move into clinics, so that we can start to help improve the welfare of many horses.
Making a real difference to animals’ lives
What would she say to young people interested in pursuing a science-based career focused on animals?
‘Try and get as much experience as you can,’ advises Paterson. ‘Particularly in different fields, as this will help you figure out what you are truly passionate about. A career in science is not always easy, and there will always be setbacks and frustrations along the way. But, for me. knowing that you’re working on something that could really make a difference to animals’ lives makes all the hard work worthwhile.’