Researchers have uncovered a new way of examining laminitis tissue that might allow them to see where in the foot—aside from where they know the tissues that suspend the coffin bone inside the hoof fail—damage occurs. This could one day mean better outcomes for painful laminitis cases, or even dodging the condition in the first place.

“The need to understand the lamellar microanatomy to improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent laminitis is comparable to a surgeon’s need to understand the anatomy of a horse’s limb in order to repair a fracture," said Hannah Galantino-Homer, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACT, senior researcher in laminitis at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She has been studying the microanatomy of the foot’s suspensory apparatus (this is different from the suspensory ligament around the cannon bone); in the foot, the suspensory apparatus "slings" the coffin bone within the hoof. She presented her findings at the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Laminitis as a “disease of tissue structural failure and changes within the protein structures within the hoof, referred to as altered differentiation,” Galantino-Homer explained. (Different cell types and interconnections form layers within the hoof—these layers are referred to as laminae or lamellae.) Various layers of the hoof’s laminar tissue play a role in suspending the coffin bone within the hoof wall. When the suspensory apparatus fails, we see clinical signs associated with laminitis, such as pain, inflammation, and weakened hoof structural integrity. Without this tissue integrity, the coffin bone might even rotate downward or sink toward the sole. Cellular studies of diseased hooves’ tissue (histopathology) reveal that these clinical signs are caused, in part, by abnormal hoof capsule growth and