Scientists eliminate horse lameness with gene therapy

Lameness in horses is one of the biggest tragedies that can befall the animals, causing pain, discomfort and a lack of productivity for horses involved in riding or racing.

Now, a team of scientists have found that injecting DNA into the tendons and ligaments of injured horses may help them recover from lameness.

The team, made of up researchers from England and Russia, tested the gene therapy method on horses that had been made lame from injuries. They found that in just two or three weeks, horses were once again able to walk and even trot, reaching full galloping potential in around two months. After a full year, the horses were reportedly fully healed with no remaining pain.

“This pioneering study advances not only equine medicine, but has real implications for how other species and humans are treated for lameness and other disorders in the future,” said Catrin Rutland, who led the British team. “The horses returned to full health after their injuries, and did not have any adverse side effects. This is a very exciting medical innovation.”

To get the results, the team used a combination of genes derived from horses: the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor gene VEGF164 and the bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP2). The former helped along the growth of blood vessels, while the latter helps with bone and cartilage development.

According to the team’s research, many treatments for lameness have a relatively high relapse rate — anywhere from 20% to 60%. Most treatments take many months of hard work, and some can have negative side effects. They hope that their findings can speed along the process, leading to happier and healthier horses.

The Russian head of the study, Albert Rizvanov, hopes they can take what has been found and expand its potential applications. “We could use this type of therapy in other injuries and in many other situations, ranging from fertility problems through to spinal injuries,” he said. “Our next step is to secure more funding for an even larger trial to help more animals…in the hope that one day we can routinely use this treatment around the world.”

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