Veterinary specialists at Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center have been awarded several research grants to support their efforts to improve horse health — not only for their own patients, but for all horses.

Dr. Jennifer Barrett, an assistant professor of equine surgery at the equine medical center, received a $20,222 grant from the Virginia Horse Industry Board (VHIB) to continue her research using platelet rich plasma (PRP) to promote healing of orthopedic injuries in horses. 

Barrett's new project will identify the features of platelet rich plasma that are critical for stimulating healing of tendons, ligaments, and cartilage in areas where healing has failed. Platelet rich plasma is a concentrated preparation of platelets made from a patient’s own blood that can then be applied to injured tissues. The platelets contain and release many protein factors that are responsible for healing in the body. Thus, PRP therapy harnesses the body’s own healing mechanisms to regenerate tissues that are not healing on their own. 

This research is a continuation of ongoing projects to optimize regenerative medicine techniques such as platelet rich plasma and stem cell or progenitor cell therapy to treat orthopedic injuries in horses and other species.

“Clinically, PRP has helped tendon and ligament injuries that were resistant to healing, even after prolonged rehabilitation,” Barrett explained. “Already, I have been impressed with how well some of my patients have responded to PRP. 

“With this new funding, I will look at several molecular aspects of PRP therapy with the goal of identifying the best formulation of PRP to treat injuries. There is a balance between inflammation and healing that we do not fully understand, and PRP therapy plays into this balance. The overall goal is to optimize and improve PRP therapy so that we can help even more horses with injuries,” she said.

The VHIB also awarded a $9,864 grant to equine medical center faculty members Dr. Harold McKenzie and Dr. Martin Furr to examine how antibodies administered via aerosol to horses’ lungs can help reduce the incidence and severity of lung diseases. McKenzie and Furr will work with internal medicine resident, Dr. Dale Beebe, in cooperation with Peter Byron and Mike Hindle from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy.

This grant, along with $9,000 from Virginia Tech’s Internal Research Competition, will fund McKenzie’s and Furr’s research to determine whether aerosol administration is not only easier and safer to accomplish, but also more effective than intravenous administration, which is the technique currently in use.

All research for these projects takes place in the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center’s molecular research laboratory.

“We continue to provide translational medicine by bridging the gap between bench top research and therapeutic applications,” noted Dr. Nathaniel White, Jean Ellen Shehan professor and director of the center. “Our campus combines both sides of the translational medicine coin: exceptional hospital facilities and our state-of-the-art research laboratory. Putting these facilities under the guidance of leading clinician scientists, we’re able to provide an unsurpassed level of equine health care."


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