In collaboration with Ben Espy, DVM, DACT
If you’re a horse owner, you know the challenge of dealing with sarcoids, the most common skin tumor found in equines. Traditionally, treatment involved chemotherapy drugs, surgery, or laser removal. However, a Texas veterinarian named Benjamin Espy, DVM, DACT, has taken an innovative and promising approach to this issue. By removing portions of the tumors, freezing them in liquid nitrogen, and re-implanting them in the same horse’s body, he aims to trigger a natural immune response against sarcoids.
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A Step Back in Time: The Autologous Vaccine
Describing his technique as an “archaic viral vaccination attempt,” Espy’s approach seeks to make the body recognize the sarcoid as foreign and initiate its own defense mechanism. This autologous vaccine, derived from the same animal it is administered to, is a technique commonly used in other livestock species. Espy reports a success rate of 12 out of 15 documented cases so far.
Unveiling the Science behind Sarcoids in Horses
Sarcoids are believed to be caused by the bovine papilloma virus, a common culprit behind these skin tumors in horses. While conventional treatments such as cisplatin chemotherapy and surgical removal exist, the risk of recurrence persists if even a tiny fraction of the sarcoid is left behind. Espy underscores the potential danger, explaining that sarcoids become “angry” when significantly disturbed, leading to more aggressive regrowth. Although an injectable sarcoid vaccine is currently in development, its effectiveness remains a matter of controversy.
Thinking Outside the Box: A New Solution Emerges
Espy’s expertise lies in equine reproductive work, primarily focusing on theriogenology. However, his exposure to challenging sarcoid cases associated with equine genitalia prompted him to explore alternative treatment methods. For instance, he recalls a stallion referred to his practice with a sizable sarcoid on his sheath, a delicate area requiring cautious intervention.
Freezing Away Tumors for a Swift Recovery
Espy’s technique involves taking several pencil-eraser-sized samples from the tumor’s surface and freezing them in liquid nitrogen to neutralize the virus. Once thawed, these sections are carefully implanted along the crest of the neck. Espy chose this particular location due to the thin skin and limited mobility, ensuring quick healing and, if needed, concealing any resulting scars or white hair accumulation with the horse’s mane.
Promising Results That Speak for Themselves
According to Espy, his innovative approach has delivered results equal to or better than traditional sarcoid treatments. Typically, the tumors begin to regress within 90 to 120 days after treatment, with some cases requiring up to 180 days for significant improvement. Importantly, none of the treated horses has experienced a recurrence, with the longest-followed horse remaining sarcoid-free even five years later.
Sharing Innovation and Advancing Veterinary Medicine
Espy’s groundbreaking technique gained recognition after he presented a paper on the subject at the 2008 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention. Interestingly, several veterinarians recalled a similar discussion at the 1975 convention in Nevada, suggesting the intuitiveness of this approach. Espy, however, remains focused on sharing effective treatment information and defers to dermatologists and pathologists to delve into the scientific specifics behind its success.
This revolutionary treatment for sarcoids in horses brings hope to those dealing with this common equine tumor. Espy’s groundbreaking approach to utilizing the body’s own immune system could provide a more enduring solution for sarcoid management. As the veterinary community continues to explore novel ideas and share knowledge, breakthroughs like these continue to shape the future of equine medicine.
This article was originally published on 5 WS.