Horse health research projects get $US1.1m grant

March 7, 2007

Thirteen equine research projects, including studies targeting laminitis and a rapid diagnostic test for Strangles, have received grants totalling more than $US1.1 million from a US-based foundation.

New Zealand-born veterinarian Wayne McIlwraith, of Colorado State University, is among recipients of a $49,000 grant to investigate the shape of the fetlock joint and its relationship to joint disease and injury. McIlwraith and his two other researchers hypothesize that horses suffering condylar fracture have an abnormally shaped joint. Condylar fracture is a very common cause of breakdown, and thus can be studied in large numbers. The investigators have access to many post mortem specimens of fetlock fracture.

The funding is coming from the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Another recipient is Dean Richardson, the University of Pennsylvania surgeon who treated Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Richardson receives $50,000 to explore reducing wound infections after orthopedic surgeries.

Laminitis is being tackled on three fronts. James Belknap, of Ohio State University, receives more than $81,000 to explore the early treatment of acute laminitis with lidocaine.

Factors that trigger the onset of acute laminitis will be investigated by T.P. Robertson, of the University of Georgia, who receives nearly $30,000. The basis for this study is the observation that the processes leading to acute laminitis are initiated when specific white blood cells leave the circulation and enter the soft tissues in the laminae of the hoof and trigger inflammation.

Nicholas Frank, of the University of Tennessee, will receive nearly $26,000 to study Levothyroxine as a treatment for insulin resistance in horses (toward a defence against laminitis). About half of horses who develop laminitis are on pasture. While the sugar content of grass is believed to trigger pasture laminitis, insulin resistance accounts for some horses being more susceptible than others. This team has already shown that levothyroxine (LT4) can be safely given to horses.

It induces weight loss and increases insulin sensitivity. It is even more effective when given to horses with insulin resistance (IR), obesity and laminitis. This disorder is referred to as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), and the study of the disorder reveals valuable insights into the relationship between insulin sensitivity, factors such as body fat mass, thyroid hormone status and laminitis. The aim of the study is to confirm the authors' hypothesis that LT4 can be used to prevent laminitis in at-risk horses by improving insulin sensitivity.

Other subjects for study are: