New hope for plump ponies

Laminitis is more common in Shetland (above) and Welsh Mountain ponies that have been bred to survive harsh winters when snow on the ground kills the grass.

A drug related to one used to treat human metabolic syndrome has been found by researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to prevent laminitis in ponies with the equine version of metabolic syndrome.

Just like humans, ponies, particularly, and also horses, start to get fatter around the middle as they age especially when there is a constant and abundant food supply.

In humans, metabolic syndrome is a condition where too much glucose enters the blood and the pancreas produces more insulin to cope. Eventually the pancreas fails, and diabetes develops.

QUT researchers discovered that in ponies something quite different occurs—which led to the breakthrough finding— published in PLOS ONEthat laminitis is triggered by high concentrations of insulin.

“We discovered that when some ponies overeat energy-rich pasture or grains which release a lot of glucose, their pancreas pumps out even more insulin and this leads to insulin toxicity,” Professor Martin Sillence, from QUT’s School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences, said.

“The toxic levels of insulin break down the connective tissue in the ponies’ feet causing lameness and excruciating pain, with a recent overseas study finding a third of animals with this type of laminitis had to be euthanised within a year of developing it.”

Professor Sillence said the research team had found laminitis could be prevented by treating ponies that have high levels of insulin with a drug called velagliflozin.

“This drug belongs to a family of drugs developed to treat human metabolic syndrome by the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim.

“It works by causing the kidneys to excrete more glucose in the urine to take the pressure off the pancreas and lower insulin levels.

“We have tested the drug in controlled trials here in Brisbane and now clinical trials are running on farms in Europe. When we have enough cases to prove its efficacy and safety, the regulatory bodies can pass it for use.”


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