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Researchers Help Horses Stay a Hoof Ahead of Disease

By Alex Jimenez

Treating disease in horses is never an easy task. They are large and often headstrong animals with a complicated physiology to match. Although advancements in equine health have made large strides in recent decades, still, no treatment plan is more effective—or less expensive—than preventing disease from happening in the first place. That’s why several recent Morris Animal Foundation–funded studies are focusing on equine disease prevention.

In one study, Dr. Jeffrey C. Phillips, of Lincoln Memorial University, is taking a few notes from the field of canine cancer research to help prevent melanomas in horses—the most common type of tumor in the species. By testing a vaccine already known to be safe and effective in treating melanomas in dogs, Dr. Phillips’s research could provide a new way of treating and preventing the disease in horses.

At the University of Massachusetts, researchers funded by Morris Animal Foundation are developing better tools to help prevent two of the most notorious conditions in horses: laminitis and colic. It’s commonly accepted that a sudden increase of starch in the diet frequently results in laminitis and colic because such quick increases lead to excessive growth of harmful bacteria.

Dr. Amy Biddle hopes to identify beneficial bacteria that, when given to horses, could prevent the buildup of the harmful bacteria associated with the development of laminitis or colic. If successful, results of this study will lead to improved feed formulations, management practices and treatment methods for affected horses.

While bacterial infections pose significant health risks to adult horses, these infections can be fatal for neonatal foals. In fact, bacterial infections are the leading cause of death in neonatal foals.

Strong innate immune responses are critical for protecting newborn foals from these infections. A significant part of that immunity comes from the proper functioning of neutrophils—mature white blood cells that fight disease. Unfortunately, neutrophils are not yet functional in newborns.

To better understand this deficiency, Dr. Noah Cohen, at Texas A&M University, is comparing structural changes in the genes of neutrophils of newborn foals to those of older foals to identify why neutrophil function is delayed in newborns. The data from this study will help identify the biological processes involved in regulating neutrophil maturation, thus allowing for therapeutic enhancements of a foal’s resistance to infectious disease.

These Foundation-funded studies may help halt diseases at the starting gates before they stop horses in their tracks.


Posted by MAF on August 30, 2012.

Categories: Animal health, Horse health, Veterinary research

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