Penn Vet research on biomarkers for shockwave therapy yielding results

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Oct. 30, 2019

A multi-year project to develop biomarkers in equines that undergo shockwave therapy has resulted in a published manuscript officials hope will set the stage for further research.

Dr. Mary Robinson, Director of the Penn Vet Equine Pharmacological Laboratory at the New Bolton Center, provided an update on the project and a few other initiatives during the Oct. 29 meeting of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. The laboratory handles equine drug testing and performs research for the regulatory agency.

Robinson said work began about 10 years ago to examine the affect shockwave therapy—applying energy waves to tissue to stimulate healing or reduce pain—has on racehorses. The therapy is covered in an Association of Racing Commissioners International model rule that lists it as a prohibited practice with certain conditions that must be met.

Shockwave therapy has been discussed by the broad regional coalition that put together the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities.

“We’ve been working on trying to identify biomarkers in shockwave therapy for many years,” Robinson said. “It took a long time because there was no methodology for equine proteins. (The research) shows that inflammatory markers significantly changed in plasma after one single shockwave dose applied to a horse’s leg. The challenge is to understand how the indicators are present in the horse.”

The shockwave therapy study is part of an extensive effort to compile what Robinson called an “equine biobank” that so far has collected 5,626 samples from injured and healthy racehorses. There are multiple samples from the same horses in order to track them over the course of their careers.

“The information is for horses in both racing and training,” Robinson said. “We took the markers and looked for them in samples to see the normal range. It’s the only way to understand how to use these markers in the future.”

The Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association helped fund the project with a $300,000 grant in 2018, as well as another one on gene-doping. Robinson said the Pennsylvania lab as well as labs in Australia and Japan are working on gene-doping research.

“We’re trying to make the most of the resources we have,” she said. “The only way to stay on top of the game is to invest research in the future.”

When the grant money was received from the PHBA, Robinson said noted that “while gene therapy represents an important breakthrough for patients with disease-causing genes and rare genetic diseases, we need to be sure that we are taking steps to stay ahead of those who would seek to use these advances for illicit means.”