CU, vet hospital team up for study on canine pain

CU-Boulder is teaming up with a local animal hospital on a clinical study for the treatment of chronic pain in dogs. Photo courtesy The Dog Zone

By Jim Scott

A University of Colorado Boulder professor and her biomedical spinoff company Xalud Therapeutics Inc. of San Francisco are teaming up with a Front Range veterinarian to conduct a clinical study targeting an effective treatment for dogs suffering from chronic pain.

Distinguished Professor Linda Watkins of CU-Boulder’s psychology and neuroscience department said the study involves treating ailing dogs with a gene therapy using Interleukin-10, or IL-10, a protein and anti-inflammatory that both dogs and humans produce naturally.  Watkins is working with veterinarian Robert Landry of Mountain Ridge Animal Hospital and Pain Management Center in Lafayette, who will be treating canine patients suffering from chronic and painful conditions, some of which already are being treated with various other medications with limited success.

Animals perceive and experience several levels of pain that are similar to humans, and chronic pain can be debilitating and also shorten the lives of pets, said Landry, one of only a handful of credentialed American Academy of Pain Management practitioners in Colorado. Landry currently is seeking Denver-Boulder area pet owners who have dogs suffering from chronic pain and who might be interested in participating in the study, which is free.

The new study is driven by research spearheaded by Watkins indicating a type of cell known as glial cells found in the nervous system of mammals plays a key role in pain. Under normal conditions, glial cells act as central nervous system “housekeepers,” cleaning up cellular debris and providing support for neurons, said Watkins. But glial cells also can play a pivotal role in pain enhancement by exciting neurons that both transmit pain signals and release a host of chemical compounds that cause problems like chronic neuropathic pain and other medical issues.

The team will use Xalud’s lead product candidate, XT-101, a gene therapy that harnesses the power of the potent anti-inflammatory IL-10 to normalize glial activity and eliminate neuropathic pain for up to 90 days with a single injection.

The gene therapy based on IL-10 has a number of advantages, including suppressing glial activity in the spinal cord, stimulating tissue regeneration and growth, decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory substances and increasing the production of anti-inflammatory substances, Watkins said. Landry and Watkins also have been working with the American Kennel Club on potential funding for additional clinical studies involving the treatment of chronic pain in dogs, said Watkins.

“We have already tested this new therapy in two pet dogs, and both have had remarkable reversals of their pain for long durations after a single injection of the therapeutic,” she said. “Our early peek at the potential of this therapeutic treatment in dogs shows essentially the same positive effects we have seen in laboratory rats used in our studies that have been treated with the therapy.”

Watkins said demonstrating the efficacy and safety of the new gene therapy in a second species of mammal is important in terms of moving it forward to eventually meet FDA regulations for human clinical trials.

In addition to studying what triggers glial cells to become activated and begin releasing pain-enhancing substances and ways to control chronic pain, Watkins and her research team recently discovered that clinically prescribed opioids also activate glial cells and cause them to release pain-enhancing substances. “Our ultimate goal is to find a means by which clinical pain control can be improved so as to relieve human suffering,” she said.

To contact Landry about possible participation in the study by family dogs suffering chronic pain and that might benefit from the experimental treatment, call the Mountain Ridge Animal Hospital at 303-665-4852.

For more information on CU-Boulder’s psychology and neuroscience department visit For more information on Xalud Therapeutics Inc. visit For more information on Mountain Ridge Animal Hospital visit

Jim Scott is science editor for the CU Office of News Services.

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