A Colorado State University veterinarian has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a gene therapy approach to help heal cartilage and prevent osteoarthritis in horses, potentially leading to scientific methods that also may help humans. The grant, which is $678,000 over five years, will investigate the success of treating joint injuries with a protein injected into injured joints within a virus-like agent called a viral vector.
"The lack of healing leads to cartilage degeneration and progression of osteoarthritis," said Dr. Laurie Goodrich, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "This prevents many horses from returning to athletic performance events."
Cartilage injuries in equine athletes are often career-ending. Cartilage heals on a limited basis because a specific kind of protein or growth factor, called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I), is not as available in the joint and cartilage as it is in other areas of the body.
IGF-I helps cartilage develop and, studies have shown, promotes healing of injured cartilage. However, researchers have not been able to develop a way to maintain enough IGF-I in an injured joint to help it heal. Dr. Goodrich and a team of researchers hope that using a viral vector to deliver DNA that increases production of IGF-I, a protein, will increase healing in damaged joint tissues.
"While the study focuses on horses, the results may ultimately have the potential to help improve human cartilage health and reduce the osteoarthritis that often follows a cartilage injury," said Dr. Goodrich, who is principal researcher on the grant.. "Horses have a very similar joint anatomy, biochemical and molecular makeup as humans, and joint injuries in horses often respond very similarly as humans to treatments. This is good news for horses and humans alike as advances in joint research in horses will likely apply to humans."
The Federal Drug Administration has recently recognized that the horse is an excellent representative study model for cartilage injury and osteoarthritis in people.
Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, director of the Gail Holmes Equine Orthopaedic Research Center, and Dr. R. Jude Samulski, director of the Gene Therapy Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will co-mentor the project.
The project will involve collaborations with bio-informatics and gene research experts across Colorado State University, including Dr. Ken Reardon, a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering; Dr. Hariharan Iyer, a Professor in the Department of Statistics; Drs. Aravind Asokan, Jeff Beecham and Tal Kafri from the University of North Carolina; Dr. Alan Nixon from Cornell University; and Drs. Chisa Hidaka and Chris Chen at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.