LSU Veterinarians Recieve Grant To Help Fight Laminitis

Each year veterinarians worldwide wrestle with laminitis, a critical, debilitating horse disease that often causes chronic lameness or death in the animal. Despite the high number of laminitis patients veterinarians examine and treat, prevention and effective treatment options are still unavailable. At best, current understanding allows treatment of laminitis only when it is caught in its earliest stages.

Two equine researchers at the Louisian State University (LSU) School of Veterinary Medicine recently received a $216,000 USDA National Research Initiative, Mechanisms of Disease Grant, to further study the cause of laminitis. Dr. Rustin Moore, director of the Equine Health Studies Program and associate professor of equine surgery, and Dr. Susan Eades, associate professor of equine medicine, received the grant for their proposal, “Pathophysiologic and therapeutic implications for endothelin in equine laminitis.”

Through their two-year study they will attempt to determine if the initial factor leading to laminitis is caused by an imbalance in blood flow to the laminae of the feet, hopefully offering future options for fighting the disease.

“With laminitis, there is currently no reliable prevention and no universally effective treatment. There are some methods to help one horse, but then those might not work on the next horse,” explained Eades.

Laminitis occurs from inflammation of the laminae, the interdigitations that hold together the horse's foot, causing the bone within the hoof to rotate or sink. Once the bone rotates or sinks, pain is permanent until the hoof grows back into normal alignment, which can take a year or more. If the hoof does not regain that alignment, the pain will continue and the horse might have to be euthanized.

“The main sign of laminitis is extreme pain, mostly in the front feet. Earlier signs from suffering horses include shifting their weight back and forth and a reluctance to walk as the pain becomes more severe. Eventually the horse will lie down for prolonged periods, leading to pressure sores,” said Eades.

Moore and Eades hypothesize that the initiating factor in the onset of laminitis is an imbalance in blood flow to laminae caused by decreased production of nitric oxide, which normally relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow, and increased release of endothelin-1, which causes blood vessel contraction and subsequent decreases in blood flow. This imbalance ultimately leads to decreased laminar blood flow, laminar swelling, tissue death and subsequent separation of the laminae.

“There has been substantial research conducted on laminitis, which has unraveled important information regarding its pathogenesis. However, there is a missing link in the understanding of the disease, keeping us from effective and reliable prevention and treatment. We believe the pathway we are investigating may provide this missing link,” said Moore.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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