Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Animal Health Foundation's Laminitis Research Grant Anchors Australian Project Expansion

Australian laminitis research grant via Animal Health Foundation

Summary: The Animal Health Foundation, a leading non-profit organization in the United States dedicated solely to laminitis research, has partnered with private and government research organizations in Australia to mastermind a collaborative laminitis research grant through the Australian Research Council (ARC). The grant, begun with three years of funding pledged by AHF, will investigate a new treatment for acute laminitis.

Last week the Australian Research Council (ARC) officially announced the award of a major research grant to investigate a new treatment of equine laminitis. By partnering with Queensland University of Technology (QUT), The University of Melbourne, The University of Queensland and Nexvet Biopharma Pty Ltd, the Animal Health Foundation has turned a pledge of $36,000US over three years into a project with a total cash value of $479,500AUD and a total cash and in-kind value of $1,015,000AUD through a special ARC program.

Professor Sillence
ARC’s Industry Linkage Scheme supports research partnerships between Australian universities and industry partners worldwide. The scheme plan is highly competitive and the laminitis grant represents one of only a handful awarded for equine research over the past 10 years.

Professor Martin Sillence, PhD at QUT will lead the project, which will commence in the fall of 2016.


Eight years ago, when Sillence and his team were investigating pasture-induced laminitis, they discovered that the disease can be triggered by excessively high insulin levels. Since then, the team has been able to accurately identify ponies at risk and advance understanding of the cause of equine hyperinsulinaemia.

Sillence and his team are even on the verge of developing a preventative treatment. However, once the insulin levels pass a certain threshold value and laminitis sets in, there is little that can be done to arrest the condition.

New research and treatment

The ARC grant will explore a new treatment for acute laminitis that will utilize antibodies to block the receptors that are over-stimulated by insulin. The key to success will be to make the antibodies specific for the correct target receptors, and to make them 'friendly' to the horse's immune system so that these large proteins are not recognized as foreign, triggering adverse reactions or a counter-immune response.

This is where Nexvet Biopharma will lend expertise. Nexvet Biopharma is an Australian-based global company dedicated to the development of species-specific therapeutic proteins for animals. Through its patented PETization™ process, Nexvet transforms human therapeutic proteins into veterinary medications that can be administered safely to a target animal, such as the horse. Nexvet Biopharma is the only stand-alone veterinary company in the world dedicated to this approach.

The research project will run for three years and will involve active participation by the Animal Health Foundation.

About the Animal Health Foundation: AHF is an all-volunteer US charity begun by Missouri veterinarian Donald M. Walsh 30 years ago for his clients who lost horses to laminitis. Since then, it has grown to fund laminitis education and research projects worldwide. Many advances in laminitis prevention, diagnosis and treatment are linked to AHF grant assistance, which is now approaching a total of $2 million. AHF receives most of its donations from horse owners or from veterinarians and farriers in memory of horses with laminitis they've tried to help; AHF funnels 100% of all donations directly to research. In 2014, AHF launched a Laminitis Memorial Wall on the Foundation's website; it is slated for permanent development as a remembrance site for horses who fought the disease. Large and small donations to AHF are fully tax deductible, and always welcome.

Click here to donate.
Click here to contact AHF.
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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Animal Health Foundation's 30th Year Anniversary Celebration to Benefit Laminitis Research

Planning is underway for the Animal Health Foundation's 30th Anniversary Celebration event on October 24, 2015 at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis, Missouri.  The event includes an award dinner and premier entertainment in an intimate setting. Funds raised by the event will directly support leading laminitis research; sponsorships are available for companies and individuals.  

Many people have generously contributed to the AHF mission in the past that has supported leading-edge research and discoveries. Continuing the 30-year legacy of the Animal Health Foundation's founder, Donald Walsh, DVM is critical.  Animal Health Foundation donors have traditionally been horse owners who have first-hand experience with the disease and want to make a difference by directly supporting cutting-edge research at leading universities. Many other donors are veterinarians, equine hospitals, equine product and pharmaceutical manufacturers, farriers and hoof trimmers.  Due to research findings, equine practitioners have successfully intervened more often to save horses' lives, yet they want research to advance so that more can be done to prevent and cure laminitis. In 2015, Animal Health Foundation funds are supporting pioneering research on the role of incretins in equine insulin production and regulation at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia as well as ongoing research projects in the United States. 

For more information about sponsorships or early event registration, please contact Jane Unger at 314-367-8118 or

Friday, January 2, 2015

Remember horses who fought laminitis: AHF's Memorial Wall rises to honor past pain with future research

©Sarah K. Andrew Secretariat's Grave Laminitis Memorial Wall
Laminitis is equally painful to every horse, whether a champion racehorse or a child's pony. The Memorial Wall will unite the names of horses from all time periods, and from all parts of the world who have suffered the pain of laminitis. With the help of research and education, future horses may be spared the fear of laminitis and the knowledge of its pain.
Ponies like Flash and Casey are right up there with Secretariat and Barbaro. Beloved trail and amateur show horses Little Dixie, Chief, and Midnight are not far behind.
The Animal Health Foundation (AHF), a US charity dedicated exclusively to funding laminitis research, has set a new goal: to make sure that no horse with laminitis is ever forgotten. Thanks to a new website page just for them, the most famous racehorse and the most unknown pony will share their own special place on the web and in search engine results, in memory of their struggle with the painful disease of laminitis.
A fledgling “memorial wall” list was launched at Christmas on the Animal Health Foundation (AHF) website ( Donors to the AHF in 2015 may personalize a monetary gift by attaching a horse’s name and a human’s name. The names will appear on the web page, alongside others from all over the world and beneath a stunning photograph by New Jersey racing photographer Sarah K. Andrew, showing red roses draped over Secretariat’s grave at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky.
Secretariat may be the most famous horse to have had laminitis; 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was instrumental in bringing the disease to more public attention. Laminitis was listed as the cause of euthanasia for both horses.
Among the successful horses reported to have died from complications of laminitis in 2014 were Kentucky Thoroughbred sire Noble Causeway in May, 2014 Kentucky Derby starter Intense Holiday in June, California Thoroughbred stallion Thorn Song in August, Saudi show jumping stallion Presley Boy, Australian champion Standardbred filly Mindarie Priddy and Australian Thoroughbred sire Sequalo in September, and New York Thoroughbred sire Disco Rico in December.
While famous horses will be welcome on the "wall", all names are listed in the same size type, and by the order in which their donations were received. Beloved children’s ponies will mix in with champion racehorses; retired roping horses will mingle with pedigreed warmbloods.
Laminitis Memorial Wall invitation Animal Health Foundation
Every donation to the Animal Health Foundation qualifies one horse to be added to the wall.
Many donors to the Animal Health Foundation have traditionally been horse owners who have first-hand experience with the disease and want to make a difference by directly supporting cutting-edge research at leading universities. Many have made donations in the memory of special horses in the past but no ongoing list was compiled. Now the list will be maintained and amended with the names of more horses and donors as they are received.
Many other donors are veterinarians, equine hospitals, farriers and hoof trimmers who struggle with the disease and want to see research advance. They may now make a donation in the memory of a horse they worked on, and the bereaved owners who hired them.
In 2014, the Animal Health Foundation celebrated ongoing research on the role of insulin in the metabolic form of the disease from the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit at the University of Queensland, as well as results of an AHF-funded study at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine verifying a simple new “Oral Sugar Test”:  horses likely to develop the metabolic form of laminitis have a higher insulin response after a direct dose of oral sugar.
In 2015, AHF funds are supporting pioneering research on the role of incretins in equine insulin production and regulation at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, as well as ongoing research projects.
laminitis research and education Animal Health Foundation

The Animal Health Foundation continues to uphold its unbroken 30-year promise to donors: One hundred percent of all public donations to the organization are used only for funding laminitis research.
The Animal Health Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated solely to identifying and funding critical research into the disease of laminitis in horses. Donations are fully tax-deductible.
Since 1985, AHF has made certain that any individual who wants to make a difference in beating this terrible disease can see his or her money put directly to work to benefit all horses.
To add your support to AHF efforts, visit the AHF donation website page:
To add a horse and owner/sponsor name to the new memorial page, send an email after submitting your online donation or enclose a note with your check.

Thank you for helping the Animal Health Foundation free the horse of this terrible disease.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Laminitis: What Horse Introduced You to the Disease? Meet Dr. Walsh's "Sugar Bear"

Homestead Animal Hospital Walsh family Christmas card
Do you remember the first horse you knew with laminitis?  Dr. Don Walsh, founder of the Animal Health Foundation, remembers his. Will you support the Foundation's laminitis research this holiday season? Send a horse or pony's name with your PayPal online or check by mail donation and we'll add it to our memorial list on the AHF website.
Isn't it funny how an old Christmas card brings back memories? This is my family's holiday photo back in my early vet days. It reminded me how one pony got this whole laminitis research foundation started.
I bet you have a story to tell, too. It seems we all do.
Donald M Walsh DVM Animal Health Foundation
Donald M. Walsh, DVM,
Founder of the Animal
Health Foundation

Here's mine: Forty-five years ago, when I was a third-year vet student, I was assigned my first case of equine laminitis. Things were different then.

This pony, named Sugar Bear, happened to belong to a good friend who had helped me write an essay four years earlier on "Why I Want to be a Veterinarian" for my vet school application.

After the examination and x-rays of the feet were studied, the vet school clinician in charge told us there was simply no hope of recovery and that the pony should be euthanized.

You can imagine how sad I felt for my friend and her six-year old daughter about losing their pony, and how frustrated I was that we were unable to do anything in this case.

Eventually, frustration like this over laminitis cases led to the establishment of the Animal Health Foundation (AHF). AHF has now funded equine laminitis research for 30 years.

As a result of AHF-driven initiatives, it is unlikely that a case like Sugar Bear would be put down today. Today, we understand that there are three different pathways that lead to laminitis, and we have management tools that can control and prevent some forms of this crippling disease.

Of course, we now know Sugar Bear's laminitis was probably caused by high levels of insulin. But we didn't know that 45 years ago. This "endocrine pathway" form of the disease was only recently discovered, partly through AHF research. There is also the inflammatory pathway and the supportive limb pathway.

New methods to treat and control the disease are being developed through our research. The Animal Health Foundation's great track record of funding excellent research and making discoveries is not finished yet--there is still elusive information needed to finally be able to reliably prevent equine laminitis.

With AHF past successes in mind, please consider a donation, whether large or small. As you know, our research depends on the support of people who know the pain that this disease brings to horses (and people).

Do you remember an unfortunate pony like Sugar Bear or is there another equine friend you know now or knew in the past? I am asking you to consider making a donation and be part of a concerted effort to free the horse of this disease.  

One hundred percent of all public donations to the Animal Health Foundation are used only for funding laminitis research.

I would also like to thank you for your past support and wish you all the best this holiday season.

Thank you for all you do to help fight laminitis,

Donald M. Walsh, DVM

Animal Health Foundation Laminitis Research fundraiser

1. Online: use the "donate" button in the sidebar to the right or on the AHF website donation page for direct and instant transfers with major credit cards or a PayPal account. If you'd like to add a horse to the laminitis memorial list on the AHF website, send an email with the horse's and your name to after completing the PayPal transaction. 

2. By mail: Send checks payable in US dollars drawn on US banks to Animal Health Foundation, 3615 Bassett Road, Pacific, MO 63069.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Laminitis Research: Your horse can help make laminitis history!

Please assist laminitis research by documenting cases in your care this year...whether you are a veterinarian, farrier, horseowner, or student, you can get involved in research and help put an end to laminitis. Read on to find out how!

You (and your laminitis cases) are invited to be part of the 


What is it? 
worldwide survey of laminitis cases and recurrence 

How does it work? 
It's easy!
Veterinarians: Follow the simple directions below.
 Horseowners: Urge veterinarians to enroll horses with laminitis.

Steps for veterinarians:
1. Identify a case of laminitis, with any cause.
2. Gain the owner's consent to enter the horse in the study.
3. Complete a short online survey.
4. Take blood samples and submit for FREE insulin 
and ACTH analysis at US lab.
5. Encourage the owner to complete his/her own online survey.


For more information, contact Dr. Melody de Laat directly: 

Thank you for being part of this important effort to understand recurrent laminitis.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Australian University Researchers Launch International Study of Horses with Laminitis; Veterinarians and Horse Owners Invited to Submit Cases

Laminitis researcher Melody de Laat, PhD, BVSc, is the principal investigator and study coordinator of a new laminitis research project that will compare data from horses with the disease from Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe. De Laat's past research with the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit has been supported by the Animal Health Foundation. Dr. Chris Pollitt holds a pony in the background of this photo. (QUT photo)
In a bid to counter the deadly effects of equine laminitis, Queensland University of Technology Science and Engineering Faculty is launching a worldwide study to understand what predisposes horses to repeatedly fall prey to this chronic disease. Cases from beyond Australia and New Zealand will be welcomed as of March 1, 2014. 

QUT researchers have asked the Animal Health Foundation to reach out to veterinarians and horse owners who could help by enrolling animals affected by laminitis in the study. 

The QUT Laminitis Study is trying to find out how frequently different forms of laminitis reoccur; once a horse develops the disease it is at greater risk of recurrence, according to Melody de Laat, PhD, BVSc, principal investigator and study coordinator of the research project. 

"It is the second most common cause of death in domestic horses, due to euthanasia, and one of the most common reasons horse owners seek veterinary advice." De Laat stated that the most widespread form of laminitis was linked to metabolic disease commonly associated with overweight ponies grazing on lush pastures. But she said all horses were at risk and the condition had affected many champion performance horses at the peaks of their careers. 

"We are looking for detailed information on cases so that we can try to determine what causes laminitis," she said. "We will then follow the horse for two years to see if the disease re-occurs. "While we now know what causes laminitis, there are differing theories on how the damage occurs, which makes effective treatment difficult.

Melody's research project, "Investigation of the regulation of glucose transport and insulin signaling pathways in the insulin-induction model of laminitis" in 2012 was funded by the Animal Health Foundation.
"Due to improvements in pasture quality and modern husbandry practices, overfeeding has become common and equine obesity is reaching record levels," she said. "If we can better understand the risk factors associated with laminitis, we can look at developing new prevention and treatment strategies. 

"Our ultimate aim is to make laminitis a manageable disease and improve horse welfare." 

De Laat said QUT researchers were seeking veterinarians and horse owners who could help by enrolling animals affected by laminitis in the study. The input of both the diagnosing veterinarian and the horse or pony owner will be essential in maximizing study outcomes. 

QUT passed along a special message for owners, farriers and other horse professionals: If you are aware of cases of laminitis, you are encouraged to promote the study to your animal’s veterinarian. All patients recruited to the study must have been diagnosed with laminitis by a veterinarian. 

The dates for case recruitment are: 
Australia and New Zealand: 1 January 2014 - 31 December 2014 
Europe, North America, United Kingdom: 1 March 2014 - 1 November 2014. 

Cases seen by a registered veterinarian during region-specific case recruitment periods are eligible for the study. The laminitis can be of any duration, severity and cause. A previous history of laminitis does not prevent an animal from being included in the study.

Once a potential case study is identified, the veterinarian will need the owner's consent to enroll the animal in the study. Information on sample collection, body condition, and radiographic assessment are explained on the QUT web page for the survey. 

Following enrollment in the study, each patient will be monitored for a minimum of 18 months for laminitis recurrence. If the animal enrolled in the study experiences any subsequent laminitis, the veterinarian will need to submit the case follow-up questionnaire. Each time the horse or pony gets laminitis within the follow-up period, the owner will need to complete the laminitis history questionnaire. 

To take part in the survey or learn more about the requirements, click here. 

Research Team 
Principal investigator and study coordinator Dr Melody de Laat is a veterinarian who specializes in the study of endocrine disorders and laminitis in horses.  Co-investigator Professor Martin Sillence has been dedicated to understanding how insulin causes damage to horses’ feet for the past ten years.  Dr James McGree will analyze the results of the surveys, and identify the best ways we can manage recurrent cases of laminitis.

This study is made possible with the generous support of Boehringer Ingelheim.  The research team would like to thank the Australian Research Council, the Animal Health Foundation, and Waltham Pet Nutrition for research support.

Note to AHF donors: Professor Sillence's research on incretins in insulin metabolism is currently funded by your support of AHF.

Click here for a full list of Melody de Laat's published laminitis research studies.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Equine Incretins in Laminitis Research: Animal Health Foundation Leads the Way in New Investigations into Equine Insulin Resistance

On September 24, the Animal Health Foundation Board of Directors announced a $70,000 grant to Professor Martin Sillence of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia to study a new phase of the insulin resistance process at the root of “metabolic” or endocrine-related laminitis in horses.

Remember this word: incretins. Pronounced “in-CREE-tinz”, this funny little word will be one that you will be hearing often in months to come. 

Professor Martin Sillence of
Queensland University of

Incretins are tiny peptides produced in the small intestine in response to eating sugar. They travel via the bloodstream to the pancreas to stimulate increased production of insulin. This is the basis for the Animal Health Foundation’s previous research to develop a simple “Oral Sugar Test”: horses that are prone to develop laminitis have a higher insulin response after a dose of oral sugar.

To understand this new direction in AHF research, Donald M. Walsh, DVM, president and founder of the organization, answered some questions about incretins and the possible benefits of funding research that does not, at first glance, seem to be about horses with laminitis.

1. AHF Question: What’s the overall direction for future laminitis research funding from the AHF?

Dr. Walsh: Endocrinopathic laminitis is responsible for the vast majority of laminitis in this country. As we follow the lead of human insulin research, AHF finds the field of incretin research very interesting and worth investment of research money. Very little is known about incretins in horses and what role they are playing in the control of insulin and in glucose metabolism.

When we hear “laminitis”, we think “feet”, but we have to consider how the damaging agents are reaching the feet, and what organs or body systems may be creating them.

2. AHF Question: Hang on a minute. What are incretins, again? 

Dr. Walsh: Incretins are small proteins that are produced by cells in the intestine in response to the consumption of carbohydrates (sugar). The incretins then travel by the blood to their target organ, the pancreas. At the pancreas, they enhance the production of insulin. Studying how this pathway controls insulin levels may lead to strategies that can prevent the common form of metabolic laminitis.

3. AHF Question: Laminitis research means researching the pancreas? That’s a long way from the hoof.

Dr. Walsh: We know that high levels of insulin can cause laminitis. The pancreas is the only location in the body that produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone, a substance produced by the body and excreted into the bloodstream to be delivered to its target tissue.

In the case of insulin, it affects the delivery of glucose into the cells; glucose, of course, provides the energy required to maintain normal health of the cell. In the horse, excess levels of insulin lead to damage to the lamina’s basement membrane, resulting in the loss of support of the coffin bone; this results in laminitis.

A model of human insulin shows six different colored proteins attached to a central zinc molecule via the amino acid histadine. Incretins have the power to charge the pancreas to create more of this insulin. Excess insulin increases the horse’s danger of developing laminitis as the outward symptom of its underlying metabolic disease. The Animal Health Foundation hopes to learn how the incretins work in a horse, and find a way to interrupt the pathway and thereby control an at-risk horse’s chances of developing laminitis. (image courtesy of Wellcome Images library)

4. AHF Question: Why not just study research on incretins in humans, that must have already been done?

Dr. Walsh: In human type 2 diabetes, the pancreas fails (finally) to produce insulin; this is not a problem for the horse. So in human medicine, they are developing drugs that act like incretins to cause the failing pancreas to produce more insulin. If incretins work the same way in the horse (something we don’t know presently), we will be trying to find ways to down-regulate incretin production to reduce insulin production by the pancreas, thereby lowering blood insulin levels and eliminating the negative effect of excess insulin on the laminae (laminitis)

Donald M. Walsh, DVM is
president and founder of the
Animal Health Foundation

So we do follow the lead of human research, but horses and people can be quite different. All mammals share some metabolic pathways but their regulation by hormones like incretins can be quite different and require species-specific research to understand their physiology.

A good example of this is the horse’s ability to continue to produce large amounts of insulin via the pancreas whereas the human pancreas becomes deficient and diabetes results, requiring insulin injections to maintain health.

5. Where is AHF’s equine incretin research going on? Who is/are the researcher(s)?

Dr. Walsh: AHF is funding some work presently being done by Dr. Nick Frank at Tufts University in Massachusetts, and also a larger study at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. This is headed by Dr. Martin Sillence. Both of these men are accomplished laminitis researchers who have made significant contributions to our knowledge of laminitis.

6. What would be the ideal outcome of the AHF equine incretin research?

Dr. Walsh: After we understand how incretins are working in the horse, the ideal outcome would be to develop laminitis prevention strategies based on controlling the production of insulin by regulating the incretin response to eating carbohydrates. If we can control insulin levels in the horse, we can prevent this common form of laminitis.


About AHF: The Animal Health Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated solely to identifying and funding critical research into the disease of laminitis in horses. 

Until recent years, excess insulin was not considered a health problem in horses, and it has only been recently that insulin was found to play the key role in the common low-grade "metabolic" form of laminitis. The Animal Health Foundation has taken a leadership role in funding research on this form of laminitis, primarily at the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit at the University of Queensland.

AHF can only continue to function as the leader in laminitis research funding with your help. AHF puts together donations large and small from horse owners, veterinarians, farriers, and any individual who wants to make a difference in beating this terrible disease in horses.

Throughout this website, you will see sidebar “donation” buttons that will lead you to the AHF donor page where you can make a one-time or recurring pledge to be part of the AHF’s research efforts. The postal address is also given if you would prefer to send a check. 

Visit the “donate” page for full details or email for personal assistance with your donation.

Article, photos and website contents © Animal Health Foundation. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any form without permission.