KSU student’s love of horses drives her to cure the disease that killed Barbaro

By Bryan Richardson

A Kansas State University student is not horsin’ around about developing a product that could prevent laminitis, an inflammation of the hooves in horses.

Driven by her own love for horses, Hannah Leventhal, first-year veterinary medicine student and master’s degree candidate in animal science, Arvada, Colo., has been working since she was an undergraduate to develop a probiotic to prevent laminitis in horses. The disease has long been feared by many horse owners and was ultimately responsible for the death of Barbaro, the Thoroughbred who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Barbaro’s struggle for survival was widely publicized after he sustained a leg injury at the 2006 Preakness.

Leventhal’s undergraduate honors research paper on laminitis has advanced her to the global phase of the Alltech Young Scientist undergraduate scholarship competition. The competition will be at the company’s International Animal Health and Nutrition symposium, May 20-23, in Lexington, Ky.

The Alltech Young Scientist program was created to encourage research and development by talented undergraduate and graduate students in the disciplines of animal sciences, dairy science, veterinary science, agronomy, biological sciences or other related disciplines.

“Hannah is a truly exceptional young woman who has enormous potential,” said Jim Drouillard, professor of animal sciences and industry and Leventhal’s master’s degree program co-adviser. “During my 17-year tenure at Kansas State University I have supervised dozens of bright and talented undergraduate and graduate students, and genuinely regard Hannah as being among the most capable of students with whom I have had the opportunity to interact.”

Horses contract laminitis from a build up of lactic acid, which releases endotoxins into their bloodstream and causes inflammation of the laminae connecting the hoof wall and coffin bone, Leventhal said.

To prevent future cases of laminitis, Leventhal is working with a microorganism called Megasphaera elsdenii, which is found naturally in the horse’s hindgut and consumes lactic acid. She is researching the possibility of administering a dose of the microorganism through a paste — similar to wormer — to help horses better digest lactic acid in the foregut and prevent a build-up of the acid. A similar solution has shown to be effective in cattle.

As the first-place winner for the North American region of the Alltech Young Scientist Award, Leventhal will compete against three students from around the world for a $5,000 Alltech scholarship.

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