Preserving the future
Winbak Farm eyes stem cell partnership
— Joe Thomson is always looking for the next new thing.
As the owner of Winbak Farm, a standardbred horse breeding operation marking its 25th year in business, Thomson embraces challenge and
strives to keep pace with an ever-evolving industry.
This year he’s embarking on the second year of a partnership with EquiStem LLC, an equine stem cell preservation company, which has a research lab in Lancaster, Pa.
Executives from EquiStem spent most of Friday at the 3,000-acre horse farm south of Chesapeake City touring the
multi-faceted operation, talking with farm managers and the team’s veterinarian staff to find out how to improve collection of equine umbilical cords, as Winbak steps up its program with Equi-Stem.
“Last year we preserved the umbilical cords from 50 foals,” Thomson said. “This year, we’re increasing that number to 300 foals.”
The farm, which breeds foals, sells yearlings and stands stallions in Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada, has raised and sold horses over the years that have won $278 million and competed in over 29,700 harness races since 1998. Success for its work has been plentiful as they’ve had three Horses of the Year, numerous stakes winners and, in 2015, Thomson was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame.
One of the challenges for all horse owners, however, especially the ones in the commercial industry, is the difficulty in keeping a horse healthy, or at least able to survive and recover from injuries sustained during training and racing, according to Mark Wasserman, owner of Equi-Stem.
Wasserman, who owns about 20 horses, is passionate about them, which inspired him to found EquiStem, a company dedicated to finding new ways to heal horse injuries faster and extend their racing careers.
By partnering with prominent breeders like Winbak Farm, Wasserman says his company enhances the value of a horse today, while preserving the health and maintenance of the equine athlete for the long-term benefit of current and future owners and trainers.
“I really got interested in learning more about stem cells derived from umbilical cords after having a conversation with my daughter a few years ago about her storing the cord blood from my grandchildren,” Wasserman said. “The light bulb went off and I thought, ‘Why not pursue this for horses?’”
Since then, Wasserman has assembled a team of professionals to work for his company in pursuit of expanding the use of regenerative medicine, specifically harvesting stem cells from umbilical cord tissue and preserving it for the future use of horse owners.
Equi-Stem has hired Dr. Todd Flower, who has a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology along with 10 years experience in regenerative medicine, to direct operations at the lab. He will work with Dr. David Matzilevich, who has an medical degree and a doctorate, as well as 20 years experience in regenerative medicine. Dr. Keith Merritt, a sports medicine veterinarian, also brings more than 20 years of experience in stem cell therapies and private practice as their fulltime consultant.
The men, along with Tara Long, who is the business development specialist for Equi-Stem, attended the tour and discussion Friday at Winbak Farm.
“Your facility is just amazing,” Matzilevich told Thomson Friday.
The tour took the group to see foals, mares, stallions and race horses, as well as Thomson’s miniature horses and large Clydesdales, weighing around 2,000 pounds. They talked directly to farm managers, trainers and vets.
Winbak’s foal manager Jerry Crump showed the group a foal born at 4 a.m. Friday and another than was born two days earlier. He has been collecting umbilical cords from some of the foals at the farm by following procedures provided by Equi-Stem.
“We cut off 3 to 4 inches of the cord and place it into a solution in a specimen container,” Crump told the group
Equi-Stem officials recommended Friday that he cut closer to 6 inches in the future.
“More is always better,” Flower noted.
Equi-Stem doctors said they are excited about the future prospects of the use of the umbilical cord stem cells to help heal a variety of common horse injuries to damaged tissue, nerves, muscle, cartilage, bone and tendons.
Wasserman said one of the best aspects of this umbilical cord stem cell collection and preservation is that is about one-third the cost of stem cell collection from bone marrow or from adipose tissue, and there is less risk or pain to the horse.
“It’s all about the future owners,” Wasserman said.
“I’m really excited about this partnership,” said James Ladwig, Winbak’s yearling manager.
Winbak Farm foal manager Jerry Crump gets in stall with mare and her foal Friday during a site visit by the management team of Equi-Stem, an equine stem cell collection and preservation company.
Mark Wasserman, owner of Equi-Stem, far left, poses with members of his company and one of six Clydesdale horses owned by Winbak Farm in Chesapeake City Friday.
Winbak Farm staff pose with Equi-Stem management on Friday during a tour of their Chesapeake City-area facility.