Every year numerous scientific meetings occur where those working in specific fields get together to discuss their research. These meetings are where the very cutting edge of our knowledge are shared as works presented have often not yet been published although abstracts are typically peer reviewed prior to presentation. I keep an eye on what comes out of the meetings relating to the field of equine nutrition and make a point of trying to attend at least one such meeting each year in order to stay on top of what is new and may be of importance to my clients.
In 2011 the first Equine Endocrinology Summit was held. Endocrinology is the study or hormones and in its first year the summit focused on the condition of Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction; what you and I call cushings. This year the summit’s focus was Equine metabolic syndrome. Many of you I know have horses that are afflicted with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome and are concerned about the potential for laminitis so I wanted to share with you a brief interview conducted by the Animal Health Foundation (AHF) and that organization’s founder Dr. Donald Walsh about what they learned this year. Some of the speakers at the Summit included AHF-funded researchers Melody De Laat from Oklahoma State, Nicholas Frank from Tufts and Philip Johnson from the University of Missouri.
Before I share the interview I just want to share that from my experience as a project manager in a research lab at UC Davis I can tell you that finding funding for research these days is getting harder and harder. With fewer funding opportunities the competition for grants to get funded is tougher than ever. If this is an area of research that matters to you please consider contributing to the AHF. They have provided financial support for international laminitis research for more than 20 years and their research funding can be thanked for many breakthroughs in the understanding of the disease. AHF is dedicated exclusively to funding laminitis research and to educating people about the disease. Please visit http://www.ahf-laminitis.org/p/donate.html to make a direct donation.
More information from the summit will be available at the AHA website.
Presentations and resources from the 2011 summit are available here, 2011 Summit.
Here is the interview.
AHF: Why, with all the other conferences, would this meeting be needed?
Dr. Walsh: We met to discuss the latest research findings and to shape opinion regarding the future research most needed to prevent horses from developing this type of painful laminitis. These gatherings allow for researchers who may have only known someone as a name on a manuscript to meet and interact with each other on a very informal basis. Ideas are exchanged, questions asked, friendships made, and collaborations often occur.
AHF: Did you talk only about metabolic problems? What about laminitis?
Dr. Walsh: Although Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) was the main subject, some time was delegated to hearing the latest information regarding PPID (Cushing’s Disease). Both conditions are extremely relevant to laminitis, since so many affected horses develop laminitis. To understand this type of laminitis, research is exploring endocrine (hormonal) processes that may initiate laminitis. While EMS and PPID were the area of great interest this year, the Summit previously also covered other endocrine disorders.
AHF: What does this group hope to achieve?
Dr. Walsh: The general direction and driving goal of the group is to find ways to diagnose both EMS and PPID earlier, before horses develop the crippling disease laminitis.
AHF: What was this meeting's most important new development relevant to the Animal Health Foundation's interest in laminitis research?
Dr. Walsh: One of the most widely agreed upon ideas, regarding a diagnosis of EMS, was the use of a test to reveal an abnormally large insulin and/or glucose response seen in the blood measured 75 minutes after an oral dose of sugar is given.
Those horses and ponies that test positive are at high risk of developing laminitis and will require special husbandry practices and, in some cases, drugs to maintain normal levels of insulin and normal feet. AHF is integrally involved in this research project (see upcoming article on AHF website) with Dr. Nick Frank at Tufts University.
AHF: What does this mean to our horses that are at risk for EMS-type laminitis?
Dr. Walsh: I can imagine that, in the near future, we might include an oral sugar test as part of the annual physical exam. It might work like this: the owner gives the horse two ounces of common household Karo syrup before the veterinarian arrives. Then the veterinarian takes a blood sample 75 minutes later to test the insulin and glucose levels. If the horse has any symptoms of PPID (Cushing’s Disease), a test for ACTH can also be done.
AHF: How does that relate to laminitis?
Dr. Walsh: We know that both EMS and PPID can result in laminitis. The changes start to occur when insulin levels are elevated for a prolonged time, causing alterations in the growth pattern of the foot. This results in abnormal rings on the external hoof capsule and a separation in the hoof wall at the toe, when seen from the bottom of the foot. Early recognition and correction of the insulin level is essential to prevent laminitis.
Equine Endocrinology Summit Summary 2012 by Dr. Clair Thunes and Summit Equine Nutrition LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.