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January 13, 2021 – Joint infections can start with a small puncture wound, sometimes too tiny to see. However, what might seem like an insignificant wound can quickly explode into a crippling and sometimes life-threatening infection.

Horses are especially susceptible to joint infections. Their active, outdoor lifestyles, coupled with a small amount of tissue covering the structures of their front legs, often results in wounds to their joints. Treatment can be prolonged and expensive. Despite aggressive care, about 6% to 10% of affected horses die as a result of the infection or associated complications. For horses that survive, more than 50% will suffer from chronic arthritis for the rest of their lives.

When infection-causing bacteria enter a joint, they quickly establish themselves and can form a structure known as a biofilm. Biofilms are not simply a bunch of bacteria growing next to each other; they’re sticky, slimy films that surround the bacteria. Antibiotics and immune cells have trouble penetrating this protective shield, allowing bacteria to flourish.

Dr. Lauren Schnabel is a lifelong horse lover and her passion for horses propelled her through advanced training in equine surgery to her current position as an associate professor at North Carolina State University. It’s no surprise that, as an equine surgeon, Dr. Schnabel spends much of her time treating serious joint infections.

Dr. Schnabel’s graduate student, Dr. Jessica Gilbertie, had an idea on how to treat these terrible infections. Both clinicians used a biologic product called platelet-rich plasma to treat other orthopedic injuries in horses and knew there was mounting evidence that platelets could help combat infections. They put two and two together and came up with an idea to modify the product by concentrating it in a new way and then using it to treat joint infections. It was a bold idea, but untested.

Dr. Gilbertie knew where to go to get funding to help move her idea forward – Morris Animal Foundation. She received a training grant and set to work. The team’s product, platelet-rich plasma lysate, is a stunning success, changing how equine veterinarians are treating joint infections.

“A huge thank you to Morris Animal Foundation and all of their generous donors for their continued support of our efforts and allowing us to help horses,” said Dr. Schnabel.

The Foundation is proud to be on the forefront of equine research and to be the go-to funding source for innovative scientists like Dr. Lauren Schnabel.