Billionaire’s gift explores ways to use body’s own cells to heal

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Dr. David Frisbie
Dr. David Frisbie, who specializes in equine surgery and sports medicine at CSU, treats horses using stem cells to repair injuries.

Researchers say a multi-million dollar gift from Colorado media mogul John Malone and his wife, Leslie, puts Colorado at the forefront of stem cell research. Their $42.5-million gift will fund a new institute at Colorado State University that will explore stem cell therapies for animals and adults.

Dr. David Frisbie, a professor of surgery at CSU’s Orthopedic Research Center who specializes in equine surgery and sports medicine, says this area of medical care -- also referred to as biological therapies or so-called "personalized medicine" -- is an approach where doctors use the body’s own cells to heal.

Doctors hope therapies like this could eventually replace the use of prescription drugs that are used to treat chronic pain and illness.

Malone gift injections
Dr. Laurie Goodrich, a colleague of Dr. Frisbie, injects stem cells into the injured stifle joint of a horse patient to expedite healing after arthroscopic surgery. The horse stifle is equivalent to the human knee.

The Malones, who raise dressage horses, became interested in these treatments after their horse, Blixt, underwent treatment for a torn meniscus. Along with traditional surgery, CSU veterinarians also used a procedure that involves extracting cells from the horses’ bone, concentrating them in the lab, and then re-injecting the cells into the injured area.

“What it means is that we are actually able to increase the amount of tissue or regenerate tissue within the meniscus," says Frisbie. “And for the horse, that means they’re 2-3 times more likely to [do] pain-free work than they were with surgery alone.”

Today, Blixt is back in training and without pain, Frisbie says. CSU hopes to start clinical trials using the procedure on humans using their own cells within the next two years.

“In orthopedics, there are quite a few problems that horses have that are very similar to what humans get,” says Frisbie.

Eventually the procedure could be used to delay surgery for people with knee injuries until later in life. And, Frisbie says this is just the beginning of a whole new area of healing -- not just in orthopedics -- but for other ailments.

“The body and mother nature has a tremendous ability to heal us,” says Frisbie. “So I think there [are] so many things that we haven’t even begun to realize. It’s a limitless area of research and certainly this personalized medicine is, I think, where our industry is going.”

The new institute will be called the Institute for Biologic Translational Therapies. The Malones' gift is the largest cash gift in CSU's history.