New Laminitis Treatment Technique: Preliminary Study Performed

Gene therapy is a rapidly growing field of medicine that involves delivering a specific gene into the body to treat a specific disease. New study results generated from a research company based in Texas add to the body of evidence supporting the use of this technique to treat chronic conditions--such as laminitis--in horses and other large mammals.

In this study, researchers from VGX Animal Health in The Woodlands, Texas, injected horses intramuscularly with a plasmid (a small, nonreplicating fragment of DNA) that contained the gene for growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH)--a potent hormone that can increase the production of both growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 to offset the development of arthritis and other chronic conditions, including laminitis.

After injecting the hormone, the scientists applied electroporation (delivery of electric pulses through the skin) to temporarily "open" the horse's cells. This improves the uptake of the plasmid, resulting in enhanced delivery of the GHRH gene.

 

"These observations suggest that plasmid therapy delivered via electroporation may prove to be a useful therapeutic modality for the management of not only laminitis, but a variety of chronic inflammatory conditions, including osteoarthritis." --Dr. Patricia Brown

"The purpose of our study was to determine if plasmid-mediated gene therapy in combination with electroporation was possible in the horse, particularly for the treatment of clinically important diseases such as laminitis," explained Patricia Brown, DVM, PhD, director of Clinical Research and Development at VGX Animal Health.

Two horses with non-weight-bearing lameness caused by chronic laminitis were treated with the GHRH plasmid and electroporation, while two other non-weight-bearing laminitic horses were used as controls.

The results of this pilot study revealed that the treated horses were pasture sound six months following a single treatment. Researchers noted on physical examination of the treated horses during the six-month period that both horses' lameness improved considerably. At the end of this period the treated horses no longer required analgesic (pain-killing) or anti-inflammatory drug therapy.

"These observations suggest that plasmid therapy delivered via electroporation may prove to be a useful therapeutic modality for the management of not only laminitis, but a variety of chronic inflammatory conditions, including osteoarthritis," said Brown.

Future research will focus on establishing larger controlled studies to confirm these results.

The study, "Plasmid growth hormone releasing hormone therapy in health and laminitis-afflicted horses--evaluation and pilot study," will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Gene Medicine.

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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