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.