A research program at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, the Early Investigator Program, will focus on the equine musculoskeletal system. * Photograph by Jim Graham

University of Pennsylvania & MARS Equestrian Launch Effort Focused on Equine Musculoskeletal Health

The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine and MARS Equestrian ™ partnered on a research program designed to advance frontiers in equine health. Its first project will study the equine musculoskeletal system.

Called the MARS Equestrian™ Early Career Investigator Program, the effort aims to provide aspiring veterinary researchers with an exceptional, multidimensional mentorship experience guided by a team of leading Penn Vet researchers and animal health experts from MARS Equestrian™ and the WALTHAM™ Equine Studies Group.

Sarah Ciamillo, DVM, of Boonton Township, New Jersey, has been selected as the first Early Career Investigator for the newly-minted program. Her work will include assessing equine bone characteristics and limb biomechanics.

“As a long-time equestrian, equine advocate, and new equine veterinarian, there is nothing more important to me than the future health and welfare of the horse,” Ciamillo said in a statement.

Ciamillo’s Research Work

In her role, Ciamillo will refinine a set of comprehensive skills necessary for her burgeoning career in veterinary medicine research, ranging from data collection and analysis to stewardship and public service. The most important element of the Early Career Investigator program, however, is the immersive opportunity to assist in developing novel and transformative clinical techniques.

Specifically, Ciamillo is assisting a team of Penn Vet New Bolton Center researchers in a dynamic, first-of-its-kind study assessing equine bone characteristics and limb biomechanics using advanced diagnostic imaging technologies at the college’s New Bolton Center – including its revolutionary standing robotic computed tomography (CT) system.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to use the findings to understand bone and joint injury in horses and develop preventative tools that would improve the health and well-being of equines across all discipline spectrums. 

Penn Vet’s Dr. Kyla Ortved, assistant professor of large animal surgery at New Bolton Center, is serving as the primary mentor and lead researcher for this Early Career Investigator project. 

A clinical expert in equine orthopedic surgery and sports medicine, Ortved’s research program seeks to better understand attributes of the equine joint in order to improve clinical outcomes associated with osteoarthritis following injury in horses.

“Mentorship is a cardinal element of individual career success, particularly in the veterinary medicine field,” said Ortved. “The MARS Equestrian™ Early Career Investigator program’s unique platform will provide junior researchers with an unparalleled learning experience while simultaneously fostering fundamental discoveries in vital areas of research that will unequivocally improve the lives of our equine partners.”

Ciamillo also has the opportunity to work alongside other leading Penn Vet faculty including Dr. Dean Richardson, chief of large animal surgery at New Bolton Center; Dr. Darko Stefanovski, associate professor of biostatistics; and Dr. Andrew van Eps, associate professor of equine musculoskeletal research. 

“The MARS Equestrian™ Early Career Investigator program is more than just an immersive experience into a practical and applicable learning environment,” said Dr. Bridgett McIntosh, Director of MARS Equestrian™. “By coupling New Bolton Center’s prowess as an innovator in equine health with MARS Equestrian’s™ commitment to enriching lives through equestrian sport, our hope is to make a lasting impact on equine health through future generations of veterinarians, ultimately creating a better world for our horses.”