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Generous gift helps support equine health

By Trina Wood

UC Davis donor Dick Randall’s interest in equine health began when his 8-year-old daughter fell in love with horses during a family vacation at a Montana dude ranch more than 20 years ago. He bought some quarter horses so they could enjoy their shared interest in riding and began competing in the Western riding sport of reining, where horses imitate maneuvers they would use to work cattle.

When one of Dick’s newly acquired top quarter horses suffered a potentially career-ending injury five years ago, Randall sought treatment by equine specialist Marty Gardner, D.V.M. ’97. Gardner recommended the horse be treated by the late equine veterinarian Van Snow ’74, D.V.M ’78, who administered an injection of stem cells derived from the horse’s own fat tissue and processed by the company Vet-Stem. The animal enjoyed a complete recovery and is still showing.

Impressed with the treatment’s success, Randall contacted Vet-Stem CEO Robert Harman ’75, D.V.M ’82, to learn more about stem cells. (Randall also invested in the company.) Harman brought Randall to UC Davis to meet with veterinary professors Gregory Ferraro ’69, D.V.M ’71, and Larry Galuppo ’88, D.V.M ’90, to discuss a comparative study of stem cells from fat, bone marrow and umbilical cord blood.

Randall and his wife, Carolyn, decided to support the school through a philanthropic gift and provided core funding to create the UC Davis Veterinary Regenerative Medicine Program. With this support, the program launched a five-year, $2.5 million collaborative research study of the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells collected from a horse’s own umbilical cord blood and tissue, bone marrow or fat tissue. The Randalls also wanted to increase awareness about the efficacy of using adult stem cells, rather than the more controversial embryonic stem cells.

“Stem cells, with their ability to restore, repair or revitalize damaged organs or tissues, are rapidly changing all of medicine,” said Ferraro, who directs UC Davis’ Center for Equine Health. “The Randalls’ generosity really kicked off this research program for us and we’re deeply grateful for their support. UC Davis and the School of Veterinary Medicine now has all the components and the potential to become a major center for regenerative medicine.”

Now in the third year of the study, the Center for Equine Health has been able to leverage the contribution from the Randalls to garner additional funds to expand the program. Veterinary researchers have also established a working partnership with the UC Davis Health System’s Stem Cell Program in human medicine, directed by Jan Nolta, a medical school professor and one of the nation’s leading stem cell researchers.

Collaborative research alliances have also been established with the UC Davis departments of biomedical engineering, and physiology, neurology and behavioral science.

A retired residential builder, Dick Randall remains impressed by the success of adult stem cell therapy and is eager to share that excitement with others.

“The first horse of mine to undergo stem cell therapy is still showing; that means success to us,” he said. “This technology has already helped over 3,700 equine clients and 2,600 canine clients of Vet-Stem. We strongly believe that the work being done at UC Davis will help a lot of people too.”

This article was originally published in UC Davis Magazine.