AAEP Kicks Off Laminitis Research Project

Laminitis remains one of the most complex conditions equine veterinarians confront.

Laminitis remains one of the most complex conditions equine veterinarians confront.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation is leading the charge against laminitis through its $1 million Laminitis Research Project, an extended series of research studies to be funded through the foundation, sponsors in private industry, members, and public and private donations.

With the help of AAEP-member practitioners and horse owners, researchers hope critical information will be revealed to help more veterinarians with diagnosis, pathogenesis, treatment and prevention of new cases of laminitis.

Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. of St. Joseph, Mo., has provided $200,000 to help fund the project.

Getting Started

The first study is under way. “A Case-Control Study of Pasture- and Endocrinopathy-Associated Laminitis in Horses” is supported by the AAEP Foundation and Prascend (pergolide mesylate), manufactured by Boehringer Ingelheim. Equine practitioners in the United States and Canada are invited to submit laminitis cases and control cases for study.

“Our goal is to identify risk factors associated with the development of pasture- and endocrinopathy-associated laminitis,” says Michelle Coleman, DVM, the project’s study coordinator. “We will use the information we gather to identify strategies for treatment and prevention, as well as identify priorities for future laminitis research.”

Dr. Coleman is an assistant research scientist at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in College Station.

Coleman says the objective is to gather scientifically sound data on naturally acquired laminitis to help unravel its complex mysteries.

The initial driver for response was an email blast sent to the AAEP membership, followed up with letters in the mail. So far, the group has heard from 400 veterinarians.

Research Worth $1 Million
With a fundraising goal of $1 million, AAEP Foundation estimates it can fund several top-priority research projects of great concern to its members.

Research Project 1: “A Case-Control Study of Pasture- and Endocrinopathy-Associated Laminitis in Horses.” Study is under way. Funding includes an initial $52,468 grant by the AAEP Foundation, plus a $200,000 commitment of support from Prascend (pergolide mesylate), manufactured by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. Two-year project, with final report and results to be released around August 2013. Total estimated cost $259,000.

Research Project 2: “Referral Based Support Study, Weight-Bearing-Induced Laminitis.” Estimated to start in late 2012 or early 2013. Two-year project. Total estimated cost $500,000.

Pending projects: Additional studies identified as a result of findings through Projects 1 and 2. Total estimated cost $241,000.

“We’re happy with that response,” Coleman says. “We are hoping to collect data from 400 laminitis cases and 800 control horses.”

Some veterinarians, she says, are submitting more than one case.

“We will collect data through the end of 2012,” Coleman says, “and take approximately six months to study and analyze the data.
“This study will give us a starting point,” she adds.


Noah Cohen, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, the principal investigator for the laminitis project, will oversee and analyze data for the study, supported by Coleman and the advisory board assembled by the AAEP Foundation.

Dr. Cohen is a recognized expert in equine epidemiology, infectious disease and internal medicine. An equine internist for more than 20 years, he is the director of the Equine Infectious Disease Laboratory at the Texas A&M veterinary school.

“Two surveys of AAEP members indicated that laminitis was the membership’s top priority for research,” Cohen says. “A research panel associated with an AAEP-sponsored laminitis focus meeting identified epidemiological studies of laminitis as being of primary importance.”

Cohen has owned horses that have had pasture- and endocrinopathy-associated laminitis.

“First and foremost, I would love to be able to contribute to better understanding the disease so that we might improve prevention or treatment,” he says. “Second, I wanted to participate because I enjoyed the concept of working as a member of an AAEP-member research team.”

Cohen says some risk factors might be alterable.

“We might be able to prevent the disease,” he says. “Risk factors may serve as markers for increased susceptibility to disease such that we might be able to better identify high-risk individuals. These individuals might be managed differently in order to prevent disease development.

AAEP Foundation Advisory Board
The first laminitis research study, “Case-Control Study of Pasture- and Endocrinopathy-Associated Laminitis,” was designed with the collaboration of AAEP member researchers and practitioners who volunteered their time in October 2010 to develop the plan for these studies.

This advisory board assembled by the AAEP Foundation included Drs. Jim Belknap (Columbus, Ohio), Noah Cohen (College Station, Texas), Susan Eades (Baton Rouge, La.), Ian Gardner (Davis, Calif.), Ray Geor (East Lansing, Mich.), Bryan Fraley (Lexington, Ky.), Hannah Galantino-Homer (Philadelphia), Wayne McIlwraith (Fort Collins, Colo.), Rustin Moore (Columbus, Ohio), John Peroni (Athens, Ga.), Hugh Townsend (Saskatchewan, Canada), and Nat White (Leesburg, Va.).

Joining the advisory board to assist with the design and development of Project 2, “Referral Based Support Study, Weight-Bearing-Induced Laminitis,” are Drs. Larry Bramlage (Lexington, Ky.), Robert Hunt (Lexington, Ky.), and Molly McCue (Minneapolis).

The AAEP Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, was created in 1994 as the charitable arm of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. Its mission is to improve the health and welfare of the horse through support of research, education, benevolence and the equine community. Since its inception, the foundation has allocated more than $2.2 million to support its mission.

“With regard to diet and feeding practices, evidence exists that excessive concentrate has been associated observationally and demonstrated experimentally to induce laminitis,” Cohen continues. “We hope our study will shed light on the role of other feeding practices and diet on pasture- and endocrinopathy-associated laminitis.”

“We expect that there will be horses with endocrine disorders in both groups, but that there will be more endocrinopathies among cases than controls,” Cohen adds. “The focus is on risk factors of acute onset of laminitis that we hope will guide future studies to evaluate approaches for treatment and prevention of laminitis.”

Nathaniel A. White II, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, says the large majority of cases are naturally occurring laminitis.

“Our main goal is to interest other veterinarians in accumulating cases to study,” he says.

Dr. White is the Jean Ellen Shehan professor and director of Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center at Virginia Tech in Leesburg, Va. He was president of AAEP when discussions on starting a laminitis project began.

He says it is important to note that veterinarians, farriers and owners can all contribute to this study, either through information or donations to the fund.

White says a study of weight-bearing laminitis will be the subject of the group’s next research project.

“We’ll start that one when we have funding in place,” he says.

Veterinarians may submit first-time occurring cases of PEAL in horses they see in their practices. Practitioners will be asked to gather data including signalment, diet, housing and health management, morphometric measurements and blood samples from one incident case of laminitis and two control horses.

All study materials, including access to the study survey, instructions on performing morphometric measurements and blood collection and shipping supplies, will be provided.

To sign up, visit the study website at aaep.org/laminitis_project.htm. Participating AAEP-member veterinarians may also enroll in the study by contacting Coleman at mcoleman@cvm.tamu.edu or 979-219-3523. 

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