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Published June 27, 2009, 12:00 AM

Pondering 'proud flesh'

A local researcher is trying to find the cause for excessive cauliflower-like sores that occur on horses.

By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press

A local researcher is trying to find the cause for excessive cauliflower-like sores that occur on horses.

Exuberant granulation or “proud flesh”, usually occur when horses receive wounds and, if left untreated, do not heal.

While the occurrence happens in all animals, including humans, the condition has been predominant in horses, said Dr. Lynn Burgess, an associate professor of biology with Dickinson State University who has been the leader of the project for about 10 years.

“It usually occurs in the lower extremities where they have to suffer a lot of stretching,” Burgess said. “The pathology of it is the skin is not growing over it and not contracting it so it just keeps growing. What nobody understands is what causes this to do it.”

The condition usually develops over an open wound, and develops below the knee or hock, he added.

“You take a horse and cut their leg and leave it open for three of four days and they’re probably going to get proud flesh,” Burgess said. “We’re looking at the communication between the cells.”

Burgess and his team of five undergraduate students conduct research “proud flesh” as a side project. The works primarily on a project dealing with cancer, he said.

“We do it as we have time, money and samples,” Burgess said. “When I take samples I always go with a vet, I don’t do any of the collecting myself.”

Burgess has been able to obtain samples of tissue from horses with “proud flesh”, but hasn’t been able to obtain tissue from horses with wounds that are healing normally, which he said he needs to help compare and contrast.

“People are real willing to give you proud flesh, but what I need is normal tissue,” Burgess said. “But by doing that you risk opening the wound and causing proud flesh.”

Human tissue is also something Burgess said he hopes to obtain.

“We take samples of the tissue and cut it really thin,” Burgess said. “What we’re trying to do is identify what cells are there and what proteins are there.”

Treatment, such as cleaning up the wound, cutting back the “proud flesh” and covering up the wound with skin will help the condition to lessen and eventually go away, though some scar tissue may remain, Burgess said.

“The skin cells actually turn it off,” Burgess said.

Veterinarian Shelley Lenz, with the Killdeer Veterinarian Clinic, said the study may help the understanding of the condition and help to treat it more effectively.

“It’s a part of the natural healing process of horses,” Lenz said. “I think (the research) is interesting and we always like to have more information about wound healing.

“Some of his information might help us convince the public on what’s best to use for the proud flesh.”

Lenz said in her opinion, bandaging is very important.

“Unmanaged wounds have a large amount of proud flesh,” Lenz. “The biggest thing is bandaging and the proud flesh can’t be allowed to go above the skin level because then the skin can’t go uphill.”

The last study of the structure of the tissue was done in the 50s, Burgess said.

Burgess said the tissue growth itself doesn’t cause pain to the horse, but the area around the wound may cause some discomfort.

Coming to a complete conclusion on why the condition takes place predominantly in horses will take additional time, Burgess said.

“My hypothesis is it’s a vascular disease, it’s the blood vessels that have lost the control and are overgrowing and so far we have a little bit of evidence of that.”

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