Companion Animal Fund Grant Program Supports 10 New Studies

a woman with a hand on a sorrel horse

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine will pursue 10 new research projects with support from the school’s Animal Fund Grant Program. In 2022, the program awarded over $137,000 in grants for studies investigating a wide range of topics, from antibiotic absorption in commonly kept freshwater turtle species to the pathology of laryngeal paralysis disease in dogs to improving anesthesia in horses.

LaTasha Crawford, an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine with expertise in neuroscience, is leading one of the studies selected through the grant program and funded by the Equine Health Fund. In general, her research aims to understand how different diseases affect the senses of touch and pain. In collaboration with the Colorado State University (CSU) College of Veterinary Medicine, the research project will examine the unique inflammation of sensory neurons in horses.

CSU faculty approached Crawford, aware of her lab’s research on nerve injury and pain, to team up to better understand the disease they encountered in equine patients. Beginning eight years ago, several horses presented to the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital with behavioral problems. Horses exhibited dangerous behavior when ridden or touched in a certain way.

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“It turned out to be neck and back pain,” says Crawford. “Unfortunately, many of the drugs used failed to cure the problem, so the owners decided to euthanize the horses.”

After autopsiing these horses, pathologists could not identify a clear cause of pain until they looked deep into the sensory neurons that sense pain. These neurons, known as sensory ganglia, are located in clusters along both sides of the spine. Ganglia are not routinely checked at autopsies. The researchers found that the pain was linked to the disease “ganglionitis”, which targets sensory nerve cells.

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“It wasn’t until they started looking at these structures that they started to understand pain,” says Crawford.

This research will shed light on an often neglected and unknown area of ​​the nervous system – findings that could benefit both veterinary and human medicine.

“There is an unmet clinical need to understand more about what causes pain.” Studies like this will help us understand ways we can improve, treat and perhaps even prevent pain.”

“We don’t know as much about sensory ganglia as we should,” says Crawford. “We know that there is pain associated with ganglionitis syndrome and that the inflammation affects the ganglia. But we don’t have a good sense of what that means for the patient.”

By better understanding where these horses’ pain originates and what causes the disease, researchers and clinicians can better target treatment, find potential therapies, and avoid euthanasia. Moreover, this research sheds light on pain in general – both animal and human.

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“We’re trying to find connections between what we see in the tissues and the clinical diagnosis with pain in patients,” Crawford explains. “There is a lot of chronic pain that people suffer without good treatment.”

“There is an unmet clinical need to understand more about what causes pain,” she continues. “Studies like this will help us understand ways we can improve, treat and perhaps even prevent pain.”

The Animal Assistance Fund program aims to support research that improves and improves the care of any animal. The program is funded by donations from veterinary clinics affiliated with the school and individual donors. Donations to the Pet Fund, Cat Health Fund, Horse Health Fund and other gifts support the Animal Fund Grant Program.

See all research projects for 2022.

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