A novel study has found equine mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) naturally produce molecules that can fight bacterial infection and may be investigated as an alternative or adjuvant to antibiotics.

The study’s authors observed MSCs may be able to fight infection in two different ways – by acting directly on bacteria and regulating the activity of immune cells involved in the body’s natural defence against microbial infection.

Cristina Esteves, who led the study at The University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, said: “This study shows equine MSCs can help defend the body against bacterial infection. We’re excited about these results, as MSCs could prove useful against antimicrobial resistance and can now be investigated as an alternative to antibiotics.

“We have learned these cells produce antibacterial factors so they act directly to reduce bacterial growth, but they also produce other factors that interact with immune cells and this could boost the immune system against infection.”

Dr Esteves said she was excited about the potential of the research in the face of a growing worldwide threat of antimicrobial resistance to existing drugs.

She said: “There is a very real need to find novel ways to combat infection. In the future, this cannot be based solely on antibiotics.

“I believe it will be based on novel approaches – as, in this case, through the use of MSCs – that can also boost the immune system of animals. If, in the first instance, animals get less infections, or are stronger to fight those infections, this will end up reducing the amount of antibiotics and other compounds used to treat infections.”

Compelling evidence

She added: “I’m very hopeful for this work – not only in animals, but work is also being done in the human field. The research is growing all the time and more is being done towards trying to find a way to use these cells in the best way to treat infection.

“The evidence is compelling and, in future, I can see MSCs used in the treatment of both large animals and companion animals. It is the way forward.”

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