The musculoskeletal system includes the bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and muscles that structurally support the body and enable physical movement. Since most horses have either recreational or professional athletic careers, musculoskeletal soundness is very important to horse owners. Whether your focus is elite equine athletes or backyard pleasure horses, whether you are a professional or a recreational rider, whether your primary breed of interest is large or small, musculoskeletal injuries are common and potentially very serious. In fact, epidemiological studies have repeatedly shown that musculoskeletal injuries are the primary variable that limits the athletic performance and careers of horses.
Current Areas of Research
Horses and other mammals contain several different cartilaginous tissues – joint (articular) cartilage, non-articular structural cartilage, cartilage that becomes bone through a process called endochondral ossification, and others. Although all types of cartilage have features in common, there are important individual characteristics as well. We are working to understanding the unique patterns of gene expression and related cell biology parameters that differentiate articular chondrocytes from both progenitor tissues and other cartilaginous tissues.
Lesions in joint cartilage do not heal well. This is a primary reason why osteoarthritis is a progressive disease in horses and other mammals. As an extension of our articular cartilage development and maturation work, we are studying the repair potential of joint cartilage. The goal is to identify cellular and molecular variables that limit the ability of articular chondrocytes in horses to fully restore hyaline cartilage structure. Long-term, we are interested in developing novel strategies to enhance the repair of cartilage lesions.
Cervical stenosis is a structural narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck that can produce severe neurological deficits through compression of the spinal cord. This type of neurologic lesion usually develops in younger horses and compromises athletic potential. Often called Wobbler Syndrome, effected horses are frequently euthanized. Cervical stenosis is thought to be a multi-factorial disease, with contributing factors including genetics, high planes of nutrition, trauma, rapid growth, and decreased copper/increased zinc levels. In collaboration with Drs. Jennifer Janes and Stephen Reed, we are working to (1) improve the diagnosis of cervical stenosis, (2) understand the disease process through detailed pathological assessment of skeletal tissues in horses euthanized due to Wobblers Syndrome, and (3) investigate inherited genetic determinants.
The Equine Sports Science Initiative (ESSI) is a collaborative and research-based initiative that aims to advance the health and well-being of the equine athlete. Current research projects include establishing a national database of equine athlete pathology, bone density studies; and articular cartilage repair.