This past March, the Daily Racing Form reported that several equine practitioners were making progress in solving the mystery of laminitis by exploring the multitude
of factors that lead to this devastating disease. Several researchers at the University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center,
the Hoof Diagnostic and Rehabilitation Clinic (HDRC) in Bryan, Texas, and other institutions are actively working toward that
"I believe we've taken some giant steps toward better understanding this multifaceted disease," says James Orsini, DVM, DACVS,
associate professor of surgery at the New Bolton Center.
GETTY IMAGES/KATIE PETEF PHOTOGRAPHY
As molecular biology techniques continue to improve and the core of dedicated researchers expands, the goal is to conquer
laminitis by the year 2020, says Rustin Moore, DVM, PhD, DACVS, chair of clinical studies at The Ohio State University College
of Veterinary Medicine and author of Laminitis Vision: 20/20 by 2020—Conquer Laminitis by 2020.
"Not that laminitis will be totally eliminated," Orsini says, "but that we better understand the complexities of the disease
well enough that we prevent at-risk horses from developing the disease more often than we treat at-risk horses. The clinical
cases prevented from getting laminitis are clearly on the rise. Rather than treating many of these cases that are chronic
and marginally responsive to medical management, we are recognizing them earlier and stopping the disease from happening.
This is our ultimate goal."
The research group
Kurt Hankenson, DVM, MS, PhD, Dean W. Richardson Chair for Equine Disease Research and associate professor of musculoskeletal
research and orthopedic surgery at the New Bolton Center, is studying mesenchymal stem cells and musculoskeletal regeneration.
His research explores laminitis from the molecular level.
A graduate of the University of Illinois School of Veterinary Medicine, Hankenson went into equine practice, but his research
interest pushed him from clinician to researcher. After receiving a master's degree from Purdue University in musculoskeletal
research, Hankenson ended up at the University of Washington, working on his PhD. His first faculty position was at the University
of Michigan's medical school—not at the veterinary school—in orthopedics, with a background in comparative musculoskeletal
Always interested in disease pathogenesis and treatment, Hankenson was recruited in 2006 to the University of Pennsylvania
and worked in the department of animal biology until 2012, when he took over the Dean W. Richardson Chair in Equine Disease
Research. It was a great opportunity for him to transition to doing research that was more impactful in veterinary medicine.
As the Richardson Chair, Hankenson will continue to build and to better integrate the university's research program in laminitis.
After the tragic injury and death of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, an influx of goodwill and philanthropy funded the
research chair and helped establish the Laminitis Institute, which Orsini directs. The institute offers outreach as well as
clinical and research components. Hankenson will oversee the research component.
Hannah Galantino-Homer, VMD, PhD, DACT, senior investigator in laminitis research at the New Bolton Center, established the
Laminitis Laboratory at the center in 2008 and has a three-phase attack on the disease:
1. Creating and maintaining the Laminitis Discovery Database, an archive of tissue samples from natural and experimental laminitis
2. Investigating global changes in gene and protein expression during laminitis pathogenesis
3. Developing an organotypic culture system for lamellar epidermal cells to allow in vitro laminitis studies and reduce reliance
on live animal experimental laminitis induction models as well as to lay the groundwork for equine epidermal regenerative
therapies for the hoof, skin and eye.
David Hood, DVM, PhD, with the HDRC, is studying the chronically foundered horse as opposed to acute cases. The New Bolton
Center's experimental model samples focus on the developmental and acute phases. The natural cases represent all stages of
the disease but primarily reflect chronic disease.