The laminitis institute's work is integrated into various schools at Penn Vet, including the animal biology and pathology
departments and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "I feel like this project is at the heart of the school,"
says Galantino-Homer. "Everybody wants to be involved. It's been great to have so much interest and support from such a wide
cross-section of the Penn community."
"The tissue interface where laminitis occurs is structurally very complex," notes Julie Engiles, VMD, Dipl. ACVP, a veterinary
pathologist and another member of the group. The hard (insensitive) portion of the hoof wall is integrated with the sensitive
laminae, which are epidermal tissues. Beneath that lies a complex vascular network supported by a dense (connective) tissue
that is tightly adhered to the pedal bone.
The destruction of the sensitive laminae that occurs in laminitis will by nature affect the other elements.
At this point, it is not known if, or how these various integrated tissues (epidermis, connective tissue, nerves, vasculature
and bone) affect or exacerbate disease progression, clinical symptoms (e.g., pain/lameness) or tissue regeneration/repair.
Often these tissues are not evaluated on routine pathologic examinations. Even in cases of laminitis, many times only gross
postmortem evaluation of these tissues is performed. Therefore, work is needed on systematic histomorphologic characterization
of laminitis in naturally occurring disease.
In addition, the complex tissue interface of these tissues implies complex molecular pathways to maintain normal physiologic
function, another area that has not been fully evaluated in either normal or laminitic animals (Dr. Galantino-Homer's focus).
Engiles' research focuses on the systematic histopathologic characterization of the pedal-bone-hoof interface in laminitic
animals, and the correlation of these changes with the changes that occur at the molecular level.
"Potentially we'll end up with specific biomarkers or measurable parameters of the disease process for early detection of
laminitis, or perhaps for future treatments," Engiles says.
A serious move toward sharing laminitis research came from a 2004 meeting in Louisville, Ky., convened by the American Association
of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and organized by Rustin Moore, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, who heads the Department of Veterinary
Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital and who serves on the laminitis institute's scientific
"One of the goals from that meeting," Moore says, "was to promote increased collaboration and more widespread sharing of information
and (tissue and blood) samples ... so that we could learn together. If we're going to be successful, this needs to be a collaborative
Besides Penn Vet, active laminitis research programs are ongoing at the University of Georgia, Louisiana State University,
University of Missouri, University of Tennessee, The Ohio State University and other schools worldwide.
Ohio State's laminitis research program, headed by James Belknap, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, pointed to the presence and role of
inflammation, leading to a paradigm shift in the way researchers now approach laminitis worldwide.
His studies have recently involved cutting-edge cellular and molecular techniques to introduce the laminitis research and
clinical world to the concept that many similar events occur in laminar failure in laminitis as occur in organ failure in
human sepsis patients.
These include endothelial activation, activation and infiltration of leukocytes and the involvement of a host of different
inflammatory signaling pathways.