As a vet student, Jane Manfredi, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVS-LA, DACVSMR (Equine), assistant professor for the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation, was one of the first external-to-MSU veterinary students recruited for the College’s Summer Research Program in 2002. She returned to MSU to finish her research in 2003 and ended up being an author on three peer-reviewed publications.
“I’ve always been interested in horses,” Manfredi says, “but I didn’t really think about research until I did the MSU summer program.”
After graduation, she became a member of a mixed large animal practice in California and also worked as a racetrack veterinarian in Illinois before her large animal surgery residency in Minnesota. But, research and MSU lingered in the back of her mind, and she returned to East Lansing and earned her doctorate in Comparative Medicine and Integrative Biology in 2016.
Today, Manfredi oversees the Equine and Comparative Orthopedic Rehabilitation and Endocrinology (ENCORE) laboratory, where her research focuses on several aspects of metabolic syndrome and sports medicine in horses including some that may apply to humans.
Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of conditions that, in people, also includes high blood pressure and excess fat around the waist, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. In horses, obesity also is an issue, but the primary concern in equine metabolic syndrome is laminitis—inflammation and separation of the tissues that connect the hoof wall to the coffin bone in the hoof. The condition is extremely painful and can result in a horse being humanely euthanized to prevent further suffering.
“My first pony succumbed to the side of effects of metabolic syndrome,” she explains. “The condition has important implications for both people and horses; it turns out that horses are a good model for studying aspects of metabolic syndrome in people.”
There also is evidence that suggests metabolic syndrome can exacerbate or be a driving force for osteoarthritis in horses, as well as in humans.
“It’s possible that metabolic syndrome is somehow feeding into osteoarthritis and making it worse,” Manfredi says. “And metabolic syndrome can happen to a wide variety of people and horses. You don’t have to be overweight to have metabolic syndrome.”
To investigate the relationship in more detail, Manfredi is collaborating with scientists at the University of Michigan on a funded MTRAC grant to look at the role a specific protein, recently found to be of importance in humans and mice, plays in the development of arthritis, as well as whether a specially developed molecule, an aptamer (short single stranded DNA), can bind to this protein and ease joint inflammation.
“The current therapeutic options for equine arthritis are either very costly, not appropriate for use in the field, or have adverse short- and long-term effects on joint cartilage, despite temporarily easing clinical signs,” she explains. “So, we need new therapeutic targets for treating chronic joint inflammation in horses. We’re hopeful that this work will result in a reasonably priced treatment for arthritis in horses, with fewer side effects, and could potentially be a treatment for other species including humans.”
In addition to research, Manfredi also teaches anatomy for the College and has been one of the key players who work to bring 3D models into the classroom. She collaborated with Jennifer Roberts, DVM, DACT, assistant professor of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, to create 3D-printed cow vertebrae based on CT scans that were part of a model designed so students could practice proximal paravertebral nerve blocks before doing the procedure on a live cow for Roberts’ Lilly Project.
Manfredi also is a mentor to Jose Casillas, DVM, Large Animal Clinical Sciences resident. They are collaborating on his resident project, which involves creating a 3D model of an equine hock, with an overlay of soft tissue structures, so students can become familiar with the layers of the hock anatomy and location of the soft tissue insertions before moving to a live animal.
“The 3D models have multiple levels,” she says, “and students can take them apart and then add the layers back on as they learn where all the structures are and what they feel and look like. It gives the students more confidence and allows them to practice as much as they want.”
The 3D models also are cost-effective. Real bones retail for $300 to $500. The models Manfredi prints cost between $15 and $30.
“The models are good for clients as well,” she adds. “We can show them all the details of the hock and help them see what the issue may be with their animal.”
Manfredi also serves as faculty adviser to the MSU Dressage Club and was awarded the Teacher of the Year Award by the DVM class of 2021.
“I was quite honored to receive that award,” she says. “It was a surprise to me. My teaching and research is grounded in applicability to the real world, and I’m proud that my work can help improve horse health and inspire the next generation of veterinarians.”