Advancing laminitis research — a collaborative effort

Institute at Penn Vet conducting studies, sharing research with colleagues internationally
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May 01, 2009

Kennett Square, Pa. — Research into the causes and treatment of laminitis, along with wide-ranging collaboration, are the driving forces behind the newly established Laminitis Institute at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Center.


Photo 1: From left, Dr. Christopher Pollitt, director of research; Dr. Hannah Galantino-Homer, lead research investigator and Dr. James A. Orsini, director of the Laminitis Institute at Penn Vet. (Photos: University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center)
"We want people to know that the Laminitis Institute is up and running, and that we have a mission and vision for the future — we are committed to making sure the next generation of researchers/clinicians see laminitis as an important area for investigation and even solving the puzzle," said Dr. James Orsini, the institute's director, in a recent statement through the university.

The institute was established primarily with a gift from philanthropists Marianne and John K. Castle, along with the Barbaro Fund, launched after the Thoroughbred's death in 2007 following a bout with laminitis.


Photo 2: Investigation into the pathogenesis of the disease is a main focus of Penn Vet's laminitis researchers.
Christopher Pollitt, BVSc, PhD, a world-renowned laminitis expert, was recently named research director for the institute, joining Dr. Hannah Galantino-Homer, the senior lead investigator. Pollitt will coordinate the work of researchers worldwide, including his own Laminitis Research Unit at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Already he is advancing the institute's first major initiative — creating a tissue bank at New Bolton Center. Tissue and blood samples from horses with either experimentally induced or naturally acquired laminitis, along with data, are being collected from researchers throughout the United States and worldwide, with the institute serving as a repository for all of them to access.

Research goals

"Our goal is to take a three-pronged approach to answer some very basic and general questions," says Galantino-Homer, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACT, the lead investigator. "Gleaning from the human and veterinary literature, and proving through our experiments which pathways apply and which don't, we hope to find some answers."

The three research components are tissue banking, investigation into the pathogenesis of laminitis and developing an in vitro lab model of laminitis.


The laminitis institute 4-point strategic plan
The tissue bank is mainly to provide tools for researchers. "We have an assortment of tissues from laminitic and non-laminitic horses," says Galantino-Homer.

Included are serum and tissue samples from several Cushing's horses, some with laminitis and some without. "We have all the information that goes with those samples — endocrine studies for the Cushing's horses, laminar histopathology, what research has been done with samples so far, everything centralized because it's not always easy to get that material to work with," says Galantino-Homer.

The Bernice Barbour Foundation recently provided a three-year grant to develop a laminitis discovery database, which will include the tissue and serum bank, the information associated with the samples and a database of information on antibodies that can be used for equine studies.

The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, working with Pollitt, is using tissues from oligofructose and hyper-insulinemic clamps, two of Pollit's models of in vivo laminitis.