Exciting research being carried out at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown may have implications of interest to the pro-life community.

We know that what can be done for animals, can often be done for humans. We have certainly seen that when scientists forget humans are not merely animals, the consequences can be horrendous. In this case, though, it’s a positive development.

For more than four years, Dr. Laurie McDuffee of the Department of Health Management at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown has been researching ways to speed up bone healing in horses. Very often, at present, horses whose bone injuries fail to heal have to be destroyed.

McDuffee’s research is original. The results are very promising, and not only for the horse. “In the next phase of this research, we will be applying our research to human healing,” she says.

In horses, the most common bone injury is a broken leg. In humans, many things increase the need for bone production, including fractures, developmental deformities, orthopedic diseases and the removal of bone cancer tumors.

For treating bone injuries that refuse to heal, bone grafting has become a standard practice – the current “gold standard.” That is not a good solution for everyone, including the osteoporotic person, who can ill afford to lose any bone even for a graft, and whose bone would, in fact, be low on actively reproducing bone cells.

The general public may not realize that through “tissue engineering,” scientists can already create “new” tissues and even new body parts like noses and kidneys, for both animals and humans, explains McDuffee.

“What we have been doing in the lab is also a form of tissue engineering,” she says. “But we are not working with stem cells. This is a step up from stem cell work.”

She explains that in her equine program, she first obtains tissue containing immature bone cells. “Next, using processes we’ve developed in the lab, we can rapidly grow a large number of new bone cells – much higher numbers. These are then injected into the site of the injury or trauma, where they continue to grow and multiply, and speed healing.”

For the process to work, immature bone cells are needed. They are sometimes obtained from actual bone, but more generally from the periosteum or tissue that covers the bone. Sometimes, they are extracted from an animal that had to be put down for other reasons.

“But it is not necessary to destroy an animal in order to obtain this bone cell material. We can remove sufficient tissue from a living animal. This means we can collect material from the same animal we want to treat. Then there is no worry about matching donor and recipient, no need to use anti-rejection drugs, no problem of rejection, because it is the animal’s own tissue that is used,” explains McDuffee.

It is her fervent hope that her research will lead to better healing and the alleviation of suffering for both animals and humans. “I have the hypothesis and lab work to support it. The next step is to take it from the bench to the bedside,” she says. She is very optimistic.

So is the Canadian Institute of Health Research, which has just granted funding that will enable her to continue this research for another four years. In this phase, McDuffee’s co-investigator is Dr. Gurmit Singh of the Hamilton Cancer Centre, whose interest will be in finding ways to help human cancer patients.

This kind of positive news should bolster the courage of pro-lifers. It is a reminder that all sorts of therapies and treatments can be developed to restore and maintain health, without cloning, without growing babies for slaughter, without turning to abortion, without making body parts a marketable commodity.