Tool to Detect Osteoarthritis in Athletic Horses Developed

Italian researchers have devised a novel technique for evaluating osteoarthritis in performance horses via measurement of metabolic products in synovial fluid. They do this by using a specialized imaging technique for liquids known as proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, or 1H NMR.

Osteoarthritis is a debilitating, painful, degenerative disease with no known cure. The key to successfully managing horses with osteoarthritis is to make an early diagnosis.

"Despite aggressive research efforts, there is no good test or technique that allows veterinarians to obtain an early diagnosis of osteoarthritis in horses," explained Luca Lacitignola, DVM, PhD, aggregate professor in the Unit of Veterinary Surgery at the University of Teramo in Italy.

1H NMR can rapidly, accurately, and repeatedly evaluate the nature and constituents of various biological fluids with only a very small margin of error.

In this study, 22 horses between 5 and 24 years of age were included. In total, 25 synovial fluid samples from horses with osteoarthritis and eight samples from normal joints were collected and analyzed.

"Results showed that 1H NMR can successfully be performed in equine synovial fluid samples," said Lacitignola. "In addition, we found that a characteristic 'spectrum' is produced from normal synovial fluid samples and that obvious differences in the spectra between diseased and normal samples exist."

This technique is thought to be clinically useful subsequent to further research. In particular, Lacitignola and colleagues suggest that 1H NMR can potentially be used for assessing the treatment of horses with osteoarthritis.

The study, "1H NMR investigation of normal and osteoarthritic synovial fluid in the horse" was published early in 2008 in the journal Veterinary and Comparative Orthopaedics and Traumatology. The research was coordinated by Prof. Antonio Crovace, chief of Unit of Veterinary Surgery in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Bari.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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