New Irish Surgery Technology Returns a Racehorse to Work

Porous 3-D "HydroxyColl" Scaffold Used to Rebuild Filly's Jaw
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Irish race filly Annagh Haven has enjoyed success at the races since receiving treatment for a jaw cyst that threatened to end not only her career but also her life. The technology was developed in Ireland and is expected to be used one day on humans soon. Annagh Haven is shown with Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Damien English T.D., Professor Fergal O'Brien, Deputy Director of AMBER and Head of the Tissue Engineering Research Group in RCSI, and Laurence Mulvany, the filly's owner. (AMBER photo)

Irish race filly Annagh Haven has enjoyed success at the races since receiving treatment for a jaw cyst that threatened to end not only her career but also her life. The technology was developed in Ireland and is expected to be used one day on humans soon. Annagh Haven is shown with Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Damien English T.D., Professor Fergal O'Brien, Deputy Director of AMBER and Head of the Tissue Engineering Research Group in RCSI, and Laurence Mulvany, the filly's owner. (AMBER photo)

Ireland: the home of horse traditions. Where they still do things the old way. Where the riders are tough and the horses are tougher. Where the hunts are not afraid to jump wire fences. Where new surgical and regenerative medicine technologies are developed for use all over the world.

Wait. What was that last part?

It's true. Ireland's image is changing. If any more proof is needed, look no further than the story of the Thoroughbred filly Annagh Haven. It shouldn't be hard to find that story; it's popping up in news sources around the world.

The Jurga Report x200

On January 20, Annagh Haven was officially introduced to the world on the open house day of Ireland's Advanced Materials and Bio-Engineering Research Centre (AMBER). The AMBER Research Centre is led by Trinity College Dublin in collaboration with University College Cork and the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland.

The horse made the medical technology news that day; this week Horse and Hound shared the news to the British horse world and the news of an Irish racehorse benefiting from a sophisticated but homegrown technology is making the horse world smile.

According to press materials supplied by AMBER, "Annagh Haven was a two-year-old thoroughbred filly that had a large swelling in her jaw, caused by a complex aneurysmal cyst.

"As a result of the cyst, the bone in the filly’s jaw was at risk of fracture and she was unable to chew adequately. The outcome is generally poor for aneurysmal cysts and euthanasia of the animal often necessary."

What isn't disclosed is how the horse came to the attention of the researchers at AMBER, who were working on a new 3D porous scaffold implant technology. The patented bone repair process, called HydroxyColl, consists of collagen and hydroxyapatite, components native to bone, and its developers promote it as a bone graft substitute.

"Bone cells and blood vessels ‘cling’ to the scaffold, allowing for new tissue regeneration," according to AMBER's statement.

The surgical procedure on Annagh Haven was performed by Dr. Florent David at University College Dublin’s Veterinary Hospital. He removed the cyst and implanted sheets of the scaffold, thus enabling repair of the bone tissue, followed by restoration of normal bone shape and function.

Since surgery, the horse has returned to racing and has won or been placed in six of her races to date.

SurgaColl Technologies, an RCSI spin off company, will bring HydroxyColl to market. Regulatory approval for human use is forecast in the coming months and implantation in patients suffering from large bone defects is planned this year.

It may be hard to think of Ireland as anything but green fields, rock walls, sensible horses, and a pop-up race meet when and where you least expect it. Coming to grips with Ireland as a force in biotechnology is a leap in perception. 

Can we settle for the best of both worlds? Where else would they test a regenerative medicine process and device on a racehorse? It's Ireland, after all, and the horses never be too far down on the marquee.