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Fellow Follows Her Passion for Studying Equine Neurology

As an equine veterinarian and horse lover, Dr. Carrie Finno was frustrated with the inability to accurately diagnose neurologic diseases in horses. In particular, she became interested in trying to identify the cause of an inherited neurologic disease, called neuroaxonal dystrophy (NAD).

NAD affects horses of all breeds and typically causes incoordination and instability in horses as they reach 1 to 2 years of age. Not only is NAD debilitating, but because it can’t be accurately diagnosed, treatment is often impossible and affected horses are usually euthanized.

Dr. Finno, a diplomate with the American College of Veterinary Medicine and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota (UMN), first became interested in research during veterinary school. During that time, she worked for Dr. Stephanie Valberg, a professor at UMN, a well-known researcher in the field of inherited muscle diseases in horses and a recipient of multiple Morris Animal Foundation grants.

The mentorship fueled Dr. Finno’s interest in equine research, and she pursued a residency at the University of California, Davis, where she focused on equine neurologic disease. During her residency, an experience strengthened her desire to learn more about NAD.

Three related yearlings with similar clinical signs of neurologic disease came into the clinic. Extensive diagnostic testing was performed, and many conditions were excluded. Unfortunately, an accurate diagnosis couldn’t be determined and due to their severe incoordination, the horses were euthanized. A necropsy ultimately determined the horses had suffered from NAD.

Dr. Finno and her team at UC Davis were able to use the cases to successfully demonstrate that equine NAD is highly heritable in populations of horses fed low vitamin E diets. They also identified certain regions in the equine genome that appear to be associated with the development of equine NAD.

Upon returning to the University of Minnesota, Dr. Finno received a Morris Animal Foundation Fellowship Training grant last year to test her theory that NAD occurs due to a novel interaction between an inherited genetic defect and a deficiency in dietary vitamin E during the horse’s first year of life.

“My goal is to identify the underlying genetic cause of equine NAD and develop a test for horse owners and veterinarians to use to diagnose existing cases and to prevent future cases,” Dr. Finno says.

She’s well on her way. With her Foundation grant, she began work to identify genes and pathways that are abnormal in cases of equine NAD.

That research allowed her to receive highly sought after funding from the National Institutes of Health. In July, she received an NIH K01 Special Emphasis Research Career Award, which provides her with funding to continue her training in the field of comparative neurologic disorders for the next five years.

“With this grant, I will continue to study neuroaxonal dystrophy,” Dr. Finno says. “I am extremely grateful to Morris Animal Foundation for the fellowship award; the support I received through the Foundation was instrumental in helping me to secure the NIH K01 grant.”

We at Morris Animal Foundation are certainly pleased to have played a significant role in supporting Dr. Finno’s promising career in equine neurology.

November 20, 2013