In the 1980s, researchers at the University of California-Riverside discovered an enzyme (JHEH) that, when inhibited, prevented caterpillars from becoming butterflies, and this work led to the discovery of an equivalent enzyme in mammals called soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH), according to information from the University of Minnesota.
Today, University of Minnesota researcher Alonso Guedes is learning how to use sEH to advance pain management in veterinary -- and, eventually, human -- medicine.
“In mammals, the presence of this enzyme has the opposite effect; it diminishes the body’s ability to self-repair. Inhibiting it actually allows our cells to do their work,” said Guedes, an associate professor of veterinary clinical sciences in the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.
Guedes and his team are studying how blocking this enzyme can help improve mammalian health, starting with horses suffering from laminitis, a severely painful disease in the hoof that makes horses (and other hoofed animals such as sheep, goats and cattle) unable to walk, develop or behave normally.
Certain proteins hold together the tough tissue that connects the hoof to the bone (called the digital laminae). When that tissue is inflamed, as with laminitis, those proteins break down, and the hoof’s connection to the bone breaks apart, the announcement said.
Guedes and his colleagues have developed a compound that inhibits the enzyme and allows for more blood flow and delivery of nutrients to the harmed area.
The researchers said crucial questions remain, though, such as: Would inhibiting the enzyme allow the body to repair already-damaged proteins and cells? At what rate does inhibiting the enzyme slow the process of deterioration? Could damage and deterioration be prevented by early intervention?
“We want to understand how this enzyme is working and how we can fine-tune it to better use it to promote health,” Guedes said.
At the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Large Animal Hospital, Guedes has used the experimental compound on a few equine patients with laminitis and also arthritis. Some patients have shown results within a matter of days.
A similar compound has been tested in human clinical trials and resulted in improved outcomes for patients with neuropathy. Furthermore, its effect on arthritis in horses could hold implications for human arthritis, too.
Recently, Guedes and Troy Trumble, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine's department of veterinary population medicine, were awarded two small but critical grants to further their research into this compound’s ability to inhibit sEH and alleviate pain and mobility limitations for equine patients with arthritis, the university said.