Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Laminitis Research at the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit - Part One

 From the desk of Dr. Don Walsh,

For the past two years I have been spending half of my time engaged in several research projects at the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit at Queensland University in Brisbane, Australia as a Industry Fellow in the Veterinary Science department working with Professor Chris Pollitt. I am presently here at the unit finishing up some work, and have written about a conversation that I recently had with Dr. Pollitt about the current projects.

Laminitis Research at the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit - Part One

August 6,2011 - A meeting with Professor Chris Pollitt, the head of the AERLU unit at Pinjarra Hills, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Chris Pollitt and I have been friends since 1995, and AHF has been funding his research efforts since that time. When we met yesterday we reviewed what we have accomplished. We now understand a great deal more about how laminitis occurs and have definitely defined two pathways: 1) the enzyme activated inflammatory pathway associated with major changes in the bacterial flora of the hindgut of the horse, and 2) the endocrine pathway associated with elevations in insulin levels in the bloodstream of the horse often associated with grass consumption.

Much of the success of the Lab over the years has been due to the efforts of the PhD students under Dr. Pollitt’s supervision. Dr. Andrew van Eps’ work, demonstrating that icing horses’ feet would prevent laminitis, has provided us with the only known method to prevent laminitis and is routinely used today in treating and preventing laminitis around the world. Dr. Katie Asplin’s work revealed the role of insulin in causing laminitis. The PhD theses of Dr. Cathy French and Dr. Bruce Mungall explained the activation of protease enzymes in the feet that leads to the loss of the support of the distal phalanx, of the laminitis associated with many disease processes.

Yet in spite of the successful research of all these students we still do not completely understand the processes of laminitis. The two most recent PhD students, Dr. Michell Visser and Dr. Melody deLaat, have each added new information about both of the pathways. Dr Visser’s work has enabled us to understand the changes occurring in the first few hours when laminitis is developing in the enzyme activated form of laminitis. Dr deLaat has brought our understanding of the insulin form of laminitis to new heights.

Despite all this progress there are still important questions to be answered. However Dr. Pollitt feels we are very close, and likened the situation to peaking the summit of a mountain and viewing the destination on the far horizon for the first time. Sadly allowing Visser and deLaat to continue their research as post doctoral employees of the laboratory is likely not going to happen because of a lack of funding.

Dr. Pollitt feels that if we were able to finance their salaries and research expenses as post doctoral scholars we would likely be able to conquer both forms of the disease. The cost to accomplish this would be approximately $600,000 over the next three years. While this is a sizable sum, it is very little in comparison to most medical research projects costing millions. Our ability to fund equine research falls back on the shoulders of horse owners and equine organizations, as government agencies have very little interest in horse research projects.

I am asking all of you to consider making regular donations to the AHF to help fund these important projects. If everyone who has a horse would make a small donation it would make a huge difference. Please consider my plea for your help.