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Wendy Pearson

Position/Title: Associate Professor
email: wpearson@uoguelph.ca
Phone: (519) 824-4120 ext. 53652
Office: ANNU 227

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Meet Wendy (OAC Video)

Wendy lived in several countries as a child, but there was always one constant in her life: horses. No matter where her family moved, she always found a place where she could ride horses. Prior to joining the University of Guelph in 2016, she worked at the Equine Research Centre for six years, where she studied plant-based treatments for horse health problems.   

Academic History

  • B.Sc. (Agr.) in Animal Science, University of Guelph (1997)
  • M.Sc. in Nutritional Toxicology, University of Guelph (2003)
  • Ph.D. in Biomedical Toxicology, University of Guelph (2007)

Affiliations and Partnerships

  • Equine Science Society
  • Canadian Society of Animal Science

Research Impact

Wendy studies nutraceuticals (foods with medicinal properties) and non-drug veterinary pharmaceuticals. Her research focuses on clinical nutrition and dietary modifications to treat inflammatory conditions in horses, such as arthritis. Although both humans and horses can develop arthritis, race horses tend to develop the disease at a much younger age, so early intervention is necessary to protect the animal’s health and welfare. Race horses can begin to develop arthritis as early as two years of age, which may be due to their rigorous training and lifestyle. Wendy aims to develop nutritional and dietary approaches to improve horse health and has worked on clinical trials with arthritic horses at the Milton Equine Hospital.

Current Research Projects

Plant-based dietary interventions for inflammatory joint problems

Wendy is testing a combination of several different herbs to feed to horses. She believes plants are a logical place to look for anti-inflammatory substances, since some of the most widely-used anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin, come from plants. Natural remedies aren’t risk-free, but combining several plants can mitigate their individual side effects. The safety of the plant-based compounds must be tested in the lab before being used on horses. Wendy uses an in vitro organ culture model that isolates the tissue and mimics digestion of the compounds in the gastrointestinal tract, absorption across biological membranes and processing in the liver. She also mimics the pathological process by stimulating cartilage cells to show signs of arthritis, then adds the plant extracts and evaluates the cells’ ability to survive and reduce levels of arthritic substances.

Plant-based anti-inflammatory remedies for tracheal and gastric conditions

Wendy is testing the effects of plant-based remedies on tracheal smooth muscle and gastric tissue. Both types of tissue are susceptible to developing inflammatory conditions. Allergic respiratory disease is a common problem in horses, causing erratic contraction of the trachea and airway obstruction. Using strips of tracheal smooth muscle in an organ bath attached to a force transducer, Wendy stimulates the tissue to contract and then administers herbal extracts to see if the muscle contracts more or less. She will also conduct a series of in vitro experiments to better understand the effects of various feed additives on contractile and secretory behaviour of tissue from the distal stomach and proximal duodenum of the horse. Similar to the study on tracheal smooth muscle, the gastric tissue will be stimulated to contract in the presence of various plant and nutraceutical extracts. The results will allow researchers to predict the effects of these extracts on contractility and secretory activity in the gastrointestinal tract.

Graduate Student Information

Wendy leads a collaborative lab. Although her graduate students work on their own projects, or portions of projects, she encourages them to work together to enhance their learning. Collaborative group work fosters a collegial environment and gives her students the opportunity to learn from each other while developing new skills. Senior students also gain leadership skills by mentoring junior students.

Featured Publications

  • Lindinger M.I., MacNicol J.M., Karrow N.A., Pearson W. (2017) Novel dietary supplement attenuates muscle injury and articular GAG release in horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 48:52-60.
  • Pearson W., Fletcher R.S., Kott L.S., Hurtig M.B. (2010) Protection against LPS-induced cartilage inflammation and degradation provided by a biological extract of Mentha spicata. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 11:10:19.
  • Pearson W., Lindinger M.I. (2009) Low quality of experimental evidence for glucosamine-based nutraceuticals in equine lameness: a review of in vivo studies. Equine Veterinary Journal, 41(7):706-712.
  • Pearson W., Orth M.W., Lindinger M.I. (2009) Evaluation of inflammatory responses induced via intra-articular injection of interleukin-1 in horses receiving a dietary nutraceutical and assessment of the clinical effects of long-term nutraceutical administration. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 70(7):848-61.
  • Pearson W., Boermans H.J., Bettger W.J., McBride B.W., Lindinger M.I. (2005) Association of maximum voluntary intake of freeze dried garlic with Heinz body anemia in horses. American Journal of Veterinary Research, 66:457-465.

Research Funding

Wendy’s research is funded mainly through industry research grants. She has also received funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, the Canadian Ginseng Research Foundation, the R. Howard Webster Foundation and the National Research Council.