Texas A&M researchers have created a study to evaluate off-label bisphosphonate use in horses. Originally meant to mitigate navicular pain in mature horses, off-label use of the drug in younger horses may promote bone degradation.
Though the number of equine fatalities from horse racing is decreasing, California, Kentucky, and New York have seen increased racing fatalities in 2018. Lead researcher Dr. Jessica Leatherwood says that a primary concern regarding these breakdowns is the off-label use of bisphosphonates; the study will assist in determining the effects of the drug on developing skeletons.
There is currently no scientific data exploring the effects of bisphosphonate use on young, exercising horses. The study, “Bisphosphonate Pharmacokinetics and Comprehensive Effects on Juvenile Cartilage, Bone Growth and Healing: Implications for Animal Welfare,” received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The particular bisphosphonate that will be studied is clodronate disodium, which is easy to administer and popular.
Racing commissions acknowledge the off-label use of bisphosphonates, but laboratories are unable to reliably test for the drug, limiting the ability to regulate off-label use.
Radiographs are often a key to racehorse sales, particularly in young horses where they expose skeletal health. Off-label use of bisphosphonates may mask potential flaws and cause microdamage accumulation, which could lead to breakdowns. The concern over bisphosphonate use isn’t limited to racing; some sport horse disciplines are also limiting or restricting their use.
Horse and sheep models will be used in the study. As sheep are typically processed before they are two years old, they will offer insight into the potential changes in bone and biomechanical properties. The team hypothesizes that younger animals will clear the bisphosphonates more rapidly than older animals, that the drug alters bone in young, exercising horses, and that it will also have anti-inflammatory effects on the joint.
The findings could help shape new regulatory policies on bisphosphonate use in young horses.
Read more at Texas A&M AgriLife.
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