A stem cell treatment first used on racehorses could help humans battle a crippling Achilles tendon disease, scientists have revealed.
The existing treatment for Achilles tendinopathy which causes pain in the heel and tendon, helped a horse called Dream Alliance recover and go on to win the 2009 Welsh Grand National.
The study, published in the Lancet, shows how stem cells are taken from the sufferer and transplanted directly onto the damaged Achilles tendon.
With race horses the injury rate fell by 50 per cent since stem cell treatment became available.
Tendinopathy affects 85,000 people across the UK every year and can particularly effect among athletes. Non surgical treatments are limited, many are eventually forced to consider surgery.
The UK Stem Cell Foundation is funding the first ever human study which will involve 10 patients.
It is hoped that this could lead to access to a new treatment within three to five years.
Stem cells will be removed from each patient, expanded in the laboratory, then implanted onto the damaged tendon.
Andy Goldberg, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, who will lead the study, said: "There is a real need for effective, non-surgical treatments for Achilles Tendinopathy.
"We have seen stem cell treatments produce impressive outcomes in race horses and this trial will be the first step towards seeing if this is also a viable treatment in humans.
"If things go well, we are hopeful this treatment could have a life-changing impact on patients."
Sir Richard Sykes, Chairman of the UK Stem Cell Foundation, added: "The UK Stem Cell Foundation is delighted to support this first-in-man study.
"Our mission is to help address the critical gap in funding that is hindering the progress of promising stem cell research into new treatments.
"The Autologous Stem Cells in Achilles Tendinopathy study (ASCAT) is an exciting example of taking preclinical work in a natural animal disease model and translating it for human benefit".
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