TEHRF Research Grants: 2016-2017

n addition to therapeutic hoof trimming, WCVM researchers are testing whether extracorporeal shockwave therapy can treat caudal heel pain. Photo: Christina Weese.

In addition to therapeutic hoof trimming, WCVM researchers are testing whether extracorporeal shockwave therapy can treat caudal heel pain. Photo: Christina Weese.

The WCVM Townsend Equine Health Research Fund has provided financial support for four horse health research projects that will be conducted by research teams at the regional veterinary college during the next year. Read the following research summaries for more details about each study.

Can focused extracorporeal shockwave therapy treat caudal heel pain?

Drs. Kate Robinson, Angela MacKay and Stephen Manning, WCVM

Caudal heel pain or navicular syndrome is a common cause of forelimb lameness in horses. Veterinarians struggle to treat this disease because the heel is a complicated structure with several integrated parts.

Many treatment methods are available but each has a varying level of success. Focused extracorporeal shockwave therapy (fESWT) is one treatment that has improved some cases of caudal heel pain. This therapy relieves lameness in clinical trials, but so far, researchers haven’t determined if there are improvements to damaged soft tissue.

WCVM researchers, led by Dr. Kate Robinson, will test the efficacy of fESWT treatment in a randomized, controlled and double-blinded clinical trial using 32 client-owned horses that have been diagnosed with caudal heel pain. All horses will receive the conventional treatment for caudal heel pain — therapeutic hoof trimming by a farrier. However, half of the horses will also undergo shockwave therapy.

The team will rely on magnetic resonance images (MRIs) taken one week before treatment and three months after treatment to determine if the horses’ lesions improve. MRI is the gold standard for diagnosing caudal heel pain because it helps to detect soft tissue lesions not visible on X-rays. The team will also use Lameness Locator® technology throughout the trial to determine if lameness improves in these horses.

By using the Lameness Locator® and MRI for diagnosis and follow up of horses with caudal heel pain treated with fESWT, the researchers hope to show the treatment’s benefits clinically and at the tissue level. Potentially, the study’s results could improve the overall welfare of horses affected by this condition.

Can human biomarkers help to diagnose equine metabolic syndrome?

Drs. Julia Montgomery, Fabienne Uehlinger and Kate Robinson, WCVM; Gordon Zello, U of S College of Pharmacy and Nutrition

Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) is often compared to type-2 diabetes in humans because both diseases are characterized by obesity and insulin resistance. Another common clinical sign of EMS is laminitis, which significantly affects a horse’s well-being and performance.

There are no standardized tests in place for EMS, making it very difficult to diagnose the disease. Veterinarians sometimes test for blood insulin and glucose levels, but these results are often skewed by the horse’s metabolic state or stress. For these reasons, EMS is often misdiagnosed. Practitioners usually base a tentative diagnosis of EMS on a horse’s physical appearance or its history of laminitis.

A team of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan is investigating whether two biomarkers of human type-2 diabetes may aid in the early detection of EMS in horses. In this study, they will test for high levels of the two biomarkers — methylgyoxal (MG) and d-lactate — in blood samples of healthy horses and those that are overweight and experiencing an episode of laminitis.

If the team’s findings show differences in one or both of the biomarkers between healthy and EMS-positive horses, their research could eventually lead to a more accurate and early diagnosis of EMS.

The Lameness Locator is used to ... Photo by Christina Weese.

The Lameness Locator® will be used to follow up on horses with caudal heel pain. Photo by Christina Weese.

Can certain proteins help horse wounds heal faster?  

Drs. Spencer Barber, Suzanne Mund, Ali Honaramooz, Bruce Wobeser and Daniel MacPhee, WCVM

Skin wounds on horses are common but cause many problems for horse owners. A telephone survey of Saskatchewan veterinarians estimates that 23 per cent of all equine calls are wound-related. In comparison to ponies, horses’ wounds heal slower and often with complications.

Researchers believe ponies’ wounds heal more rapidly because they have a more exaggerated inflammatory response shortly after the injury, which then quickly subsides. Researchers have observed a similar inflammatory response in laboratory animals that is partially controlled by several cell proteins (beta arrestin-2, CXCL8 and CXCL10) and protein receptors (CXCR2 and CXCR3). By modifying these proteins in lab animals, scientists have been able to alter the speed of wound healing.

So far, no one has ever investigated whether these same proteins can be found in equine wounds. In this study, a WCVM research team will examine skin biopsies taken from equine wounds and look for the genetic code of these same proteins.

If the proteins are present in equine wounds, the researchers will measure how the levels of proteins change as the wound heals. The team will also measure the difference in healing time between wounds on equine limbs and those on the thorax. Findings from this project may also lead to further studies evaluating the proteins’ role in the healing differences between horses’ wounds and ponies’ wounds — and how scientists can potentially enhance the rate of healing by influencing the proteins in the wound.

Can a focus on cellular activities help horses with abdominal adhesions?

Dr. Joe Bracamonte, WCVM; Scott Napper, VIDO-InterVac

Horses often develop serious adhesions after undergoing abdominal surgery — specifically after surgery for small intestinal lesions. Adhesions are like scar tissue inside the abdomen and are painful to the horse. Researchers have tried to prevent abdominal adhesions from developing by focusing on preventive measures, but so far, no one has been able to find an effective method of avoiding this major complication.

Led by Dr. Joe Bracamonte, a team of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan believe that combatting these adhesions requires a deeper understanding of complex cellular and molecular mechanisms.

In a 2015 TEHRF-supported study, Bracamonte and his team applied a promising technique using peptide arrays for kinome analysis. Peptides are fragments of a protein, and peptide arrays contain critical components of the proteins responsible for regulating communication within a cell. Kinome analysis is a promising technology that has allowed researchers to tackle complex biological problems in a wide range of species. The kinome represents the number of communication pathways in a cell controlled by the kinases (fragments of proteins, or peptides), and these pathways control cell function.

By collecting samples from live horses after surgery, the researchers developed equine-specific peptide arrays. Now, the collaborators plan to use those peptide arrays to accurately identify the cellular signalling pathways that start the early development of adhesions. Results of their work will help researchers learn more about adhesion formation in horses so they can eventually develop effective therapeutic methods for preventing this post-operative complication.


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