Any horse owner who has been heartbroken by the sight of their four-legged companion hobbling in pain and discomfort will be heartened by some recent news. Researchers at the University of London have discovered a potential biomarker of osteoarthritis in horses that could lead to earlier diagnosis of the affliction, as well as a more effective treatment.
The study, led by the University of Liverpool Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease’s Dr. Mandy Peffers, discovered several proteins in the synovial fluid of horses that may play a role in the development of arthritis. These proteins could be used to distinguish between healthy and potentially arthritic joints, having potentially serious ramifications on the field of equine health.
A fluid study
To come upon this discovery, Peffers and her team took samples of synovial fluid from two sets of nine horses: one set perfectly healthy, the other suffering from osteoarthritis. Synovial fluid is a thick liquid found in joint cavities, which, due to its contact with arthritic tissues, is suspected of contributing to the disease.
Following this, researchers analyzed the samples, finding a subset of 10 proteins that were uniquely expressed in the synovial fluid of the horses stricken with osteoarthritis. Peffers was positive about the implications of the results.
“Two-thirds of instances of horse lameness are related to osteoarthritis.”
“If you can find a biomarker that can identify arthritis at an earlier stage, you can change the management of that horse,” she told Horse & Hound.
The experiment’s success has ensured research will continue. Since its completion, Peffers has received new funding to keep studying the matter. She currently has two horse arthritis-related research projects underway: one that examines another potential contributor to osteoarthritis, and another, undertaken by a student, looking for biomarkers that will allow scientists to better categorize arthritic horses.
Arthritis: The scourge of horsekind
Anything that will help doctors more easily identify arthritis in horses will be welcome. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common and debilitating diseases for horses, with research from the Bone & Joint Research journal suggesting two-thirds of all cases of lameness are related to it. Occurring in both old horses and athletes in their prime, osteoarthritis can leave a horse unable to walk, trot or even stand.
For horse owners, this is doubly bad. Not only do they see their animal companion suffering, but the treatment of the disease – in terms of healthcare, assistance, medication, and more – can be a significant financial burden.
With luck, this study will mean horse owners will be able to intervene and take the right measures to prevent it, from exercise to providing feed supplements.