Jennifer Janes, DVM, a graduate student in the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky, was selected as the 2009 recipient of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Foundation Past Presidents' Research Fellow award, which will support her project on orthopedic pathology and genetic association of wobbler syndrome (cervical stenotic myelopathy).

Janes will receive the award at the AAEP's 55th annual convention, which will be held Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas. Janes said her research project, in which she's studying Thoroughbreds, will provide information that will be applicable to all breeds. It is in its early stages and will take several years to complete. Wobbler syndrome is a devastating disease targeting the musculoskeletal and neurological systems of horses. Factors thought to contribute to the development of the disease include genetics, high planes of nutrition, trauma, rapid growth, and decreased copper/increased zinc levels. However, veterinarians do not understand the underlying cause and details of the disease's progression.

The research is "a collaborative effort to re-examine this disease," Janes said. She is working with Jamie MacLeod, VMD, PhD, the John S. and Elizabeth A. Knight Chair, professor of veterinary science at the Gluck Equine Research Center, and director of UK's Equine Initiative; Stephen Reed, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital; and Neil Williams, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVP, associate director at the UK Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center (LDDC).

Wobbler syndrome impacts the athletic potential of affected Thoroughbreds. It is one of the most common causes of neurologic disease in Thoroughbreds and usually does not resolve with time and rest. Given the poor prognosis for recovery, the disease has a substantial emotional and financial impact on Thoroughbred owners and the industry.

Janes plans to examine the continually unanswered questions about wobbler syndrome by using recent research developments and diagnostic technology. She will also examine the role of abnormal bone and cartilage formation in neck vertebrae, as well as identify regions of DNA and specific genes that are involved in the disease process.

"Results of the study will enhance our understanding of the cause and progression of wobbler syndrome, advanced imaging and DNA-based diagnostic technologies, and provide a scientific foundation for research on improved management and therapeutic practices for the prevalent and serious disease," Janes said.

A native of Illinois, Janes graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2002 with a Bachelors of Music, and she graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She completed a one-year internship rotation in medicine, surgery, theriogenology, and field service at Wisconsin Equine Clinic & Hospital. While there, Janes developed an interest in musculoskeletal diseases.

"[Wobbler syndrome] is a tough disease because of the implications of having a neurological horse," Janes said. "I felt like I wanted to ask more questions."

In July 2007 Janes accepted a position in the dual-degree program at the Gluck Center in MacLeod's Orthopaedics and Rheumatology Lab and a pathology residency position under the mentorship of Williams.

Jenny Blandford is the Gluck Equine Research Foundation Assistant at the Gluck Center.

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More information on Gluck Equine Research Center and UK's Equine Initiative.

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