Laminitis Conference Ramps Up the Fight Against Foot Problems in Horses

Many of the top minds in laminitis research gathered Nov. 2-4 in West Palm Beach, Fla., to disseminate their findings on this devastating disease and other problems. About 370 veterinarians, farriers, and horse owners attended the Fourth International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot.

"Due to the tragic demise of the great racehorse Barbaro, the awareness of this disease has reached its apex," said conference director James Orsini, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, of the University of Pennsylvania. He termed the conference, a joint venture between the University of Pennsylvania, The Ohio State University, and the University of Florida, "the centerpiece of a multi-pronged campaign against laminitis."

The next initiative, he announced, will be the creation of The Laminitis Institute, a permanent facility dedicated to the research and treatment of laminitis and housed at the University of Pennsylvania. A million-dollar donation from John and Marianne Castle, who have been instrumental supporters of the biennial conference series, will allow Orsini to assume directorship of the new institute (for more on this see Look for significant contributions from The Laminitis Institute in the future.

In the meantime, here are a few hot topics from the conference:

  • Catherine McGowan, BVSc, DipVetClinStud, MACVSc, DEIM, PhD, of the University of Helsinki, reported on a landmark study that induced laminitis with high insulin levels in healthy young ponies. This study provided a new understanding of just how metabolic disturbances can cause laminitis, and a new way to reliably induce the disease for research.
  • Christopher Pollitt, BVSc, PhD, director of the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit at the University of Queensland, Australia, discussed a new method of delivering medication into the foot for research and eventually clinical purposes--via special hollow screws inserted through the wall and directly into the coffin bone, in a "surprisingly not painful" procedure called interosseus perfusion. He also discussed new work describing distortion of hoof growth centers in chronically laminitic horses, resulting in inward-growing tubular hoof that lyses bone and compromises blood flow, lowering the horse's chances of recovering.
  • Don Walsh, DVM, of Homestead Equine Hospital in Missouri and founder of the Animal Health Foundation, presented 2.5 years' worth of blood testing observations of 25 horses and ponies, many of which had either equine Cushing's disease (ECD) or equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and current laminitis or a history of laminitis. Insulin levels and laminitis grade were "strongly correlated;" when insulin levels were higher, the laminitis was worse, and vice versa. Thus, insulin testing might have a place in evaluating animals at risk of laminitis (i.e., those with metabolic diseases such as ECD or EMS) and monitoring efficacy of management methods.

For a complete list of speakers and topics from the conference, click here.  

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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