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Researchers Set Their Sights on the Causes of Eye Cancer in Horses

We’ve all seen images of horses with blinders on their eyes, usually used to keep them focused during competition. But how many of you have heard of horses going blind?

Yet, ocular squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common cancer in horses. It affects the eyes and can lead to visual impairment. Haflinger horses are particularly susceptible, but eye cancer shows up in Appaloosas, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Belgians, Clydesdales and Shires as well.

With Morris Animal Foundation funding, Dr. Rebecca Bellone (shown in photo) and a team of researchers at the University of Tampa and the University of Pennsylvania are on a mission to determine the incidence of eye cancer in Halfingers and to identify the lines of horses affected.

Just a few months into this pilot study, it seems the team is hot on the trail. So far they’ve identified 27 affected individuals, all of which trace back to one of the seven founding sire lines of the Haflinger breed. These data support the theory that this disease has a genetic basis.

The researchers hope to identify a causative mutation or associated marker that could be used as a DNA test for breeders and clinicians. Veterinarians could use the information gained from this study to evaluate a horse’s risk of developing eye cancer and to recommend ocular examination of Haflingers at an early age, particularly for those horses that are descendants of the affected sire line.

It looks like this research will open our eyes to earlier diagnosis, early treatment and a better prognosis for horses.

December 3, 2013