Collaborating Across Campuses … and Species

The Human Sensorimotor Control Lab (HSCL) is known for impressive research on the human body, but this fall members of the HSCL have undertaken a unique and collaborative project with horses. The HSCL teamed up with the University of Minnesota’s highly ranked Department of Veterinary Population Medicine (VPM) to study what causes shivers in horses. The HSCL has had many other collaborative projects over the years that have focused on ergonomics and biomechanics of the human body so this served as a challenging and special project.

Key members from the HSCL included Dr. Joshua Aman, postdoctoral researcher, and doctoral student Naveen Elangovan; they worked with Dr. Stephanie Valberg, professor and director of the Equine Center, and Dr. Anne Nicholson a veterinary surgeon and postdoctoral associate in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, on this project.

Shivers are initially apparent in the back legs of horses though excessive tremors and proprioceptive problems, which cause the horses to experience difficulty knowing where they are in relation to their environment. The VPM members are examining both genetic factors as well as the neuropathology of the disorder. They examine muscle biopsies and inspect the brain and spinal cord of the horse for abnormalities, in hopes of finding a specific area that is commonly affected. The HSCL members are evaluating the clinical manifestations of the disorder by looking at muscle activity patterns in the hind limbs while the horses walk, trot, and walk backwards. Dr. Aman explained that the idea behind this collaboration is to find a connection between muscle activity patterns with the neuropathological evaluation.

When horses have shivers it often results in euthanasia because not much is known about the etiology of this disorder. Since there is not a great understanding of what causes shivers the results of this ongoing research could greatly impact what happens to these horses. These results have the potential to help provide a deeper understanding of shivers and could eventually assist in the development of treatment or medicine. Both teams are eager analyze the results and hopeful to draw more conclusions on what causes this disorder.

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