Someday veterinarians might be able to take a horse’s blood sample, analyze its makeup to predict his future bone and joint health, and simply prevent the problems that are likely to arise. In late 2005, 20 leading joint researchers that are pursuing this goal convened for a first-of-a-kind Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation workshop on this topic–equine joint biomarkers.

Scientists covered some of the latest findings on potential new biomarkers to monitor the health of joint tissues, particularly cartilage, tendon, and bone. According to workshop organizer Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, DSc, FRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, director of orthopaedic research at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, biomarkers are "indicators of abnormal skeletal tissue turnover, and often consist of molecules that are the normal products and byproducts of the metabolic processes occurring within skeletal tissues.

"One of the more recent works (in orthopedic research) is to develop a number of biomarkers to predict changes in bone," McIlwraith said. "That would allow a veterinarian to take a blood sample and predict chronic bone disease." In addition to developing better cartilage repair techniques, he and other researchers would like to prevent joint damage altogether by using gene therapy. This would involve inserting specific gene segments into a horse to correct genes that were programmed for damage.

Havemeyer workshops are designed to encourage frank and open discussion between scientists, and the workshops usually include comparative studies with other species, in this case humans. Chris Little, BVMS, PhD, Dipl.