Continuing Research On Knee Surgery For Horses At Colorado State University Holds Promise Of Helping Humans With Osteoarthritis

FORT COLLINS--Horses' knees are like human ones, and that's good news for both species.

It means that continuing research at Colorado State University aimed at helping horses with osteoarthritis--missing cartilage--also is applicable to humans as well, said Dr. Wayne McIlwraith. That's significant, because nearly 21 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis. After heart disease, it's the second leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

McIlwraith, a surgeon and director of the Equine Sciences Program at Colorado State's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has worked for the past 12 years on horses with osteoarthritis--cartilage loss that causes bone to rub against bone, producing pain and loss of movement.

"Naturally occurring clinical conditions in the horse, as well as our models, simulate the human situation a lot better than earlier models did," McIlwraith said. "For example, osteoarthritis can develop in a horse in one-tenth the time that it takes to develop in humans."

Prior to 1995, McIlwraith and a team at Colorado State's Veterinary Teaching Hospital conducted clinical research, identified and learned to treat a number of conditions and tested various medications designed to treat arthritis and osteoarthritis in horses.

The team recently has adopted a procedure developed by Dr. J. Richard Steadman of the Steadman-Hawkins Foundation in Vail for use on humans. Called "microfracture," Steadman's technique involves punching small holes in the subchondral bone beneath the knee cartilage near a joint surface injury, which tends to cause cartilage growth.

"Our research group has done a long-term study (on horses) showing the (microfracture) technique is superior to the conventional treatment of scraping down to bleeding subchondral bone," McIlwraith said. "More repair tissue is produced, but the quality of the tissue still is not that of normal

Contact: David Weymiller
Colorado State University

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