In 2011, the University of Florida received a grant to study the possibility of coming up with a one off gene therapy for arthritis. Unusually the therapy is designed to be used on humans and other large mammals such as horses.
Arthritis in horses is a big problem. It affects older members of the population, but also affect teenage horses. Because arthritis develops and progress in more or less the same way in both humans and horses scientists believe that any treatment they come up with could be used to treat both.
The development and testing process is much easier and faster for researchers if they use animals. Therefore, it is hoped that by pooling resources, and carrying out the testing on horses first new treatments for arthritis will be developed much faster than in the past.
It is still early days for the team, but they are making progress. They are using adeno-associated viruses as a vehicle to deliver genetic material to the joints. This genetic material is designed to produce a therapeutic protein called interleukin-1 that works directly on the arthritis that is already present in the joints.
The University of Florida is uniquely placed to carry out this research. They already have a very experienced equine research team. In addition, the University is also home to several medical research teams. In May 2013, the university set up a new multidiscipline research facility.
The Center for Inflammation and Mucosal Immunology will carry out research into a range of inflammatory diseases, including arthritis. They also plan to study the connection between inflammation and the development of other diseases like colon cancer, diabetes in which inflammation is thought to play a key role.
Whether this multi-disciplinary research which crosses species lines will bear fruit is not yet clear. However, there are examples where treatments used first in animals have resulted in the treatment of humans. Therefore, there is a good chance that new arthritis treatments will come out of this cross species study. Many in the equine world are watching developments with interest, and believe that this research will uncover an actual cure for equine arthritis.