New research focuses on laminitis biomarkers in equine gut microbiome

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PhD student Ashley Ward.
PhD student Ashley Ward.

A PhD student in Britain is embarking on a project into evidence-based biomarkers to help identify horses at risk of developing pasture-associated laminitis.

Ashley Ward will be working with Dr Philippa Morrison and Professor Caroline Argo, from Scotland’s Rural College in conjunction with the Waltham Equine Studies Group and the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen. Waltham, which is assisting in the funding of the research, provides the science behind the Spillers horse feed brand.

The PhD project, which runs over three and a half years, will build on existing work on the equine gut microbiome (the mixture of microorganisms [such as bacteria and fungi] that live along the intestinal tract and are essential for the health and well-being of horses but may also be involved in certain diseases and unwanted conditions such as laminitis). It has an overall aim to try to identify novel faecal microbiome patterns or urinary molecules (ie biomarkers) that could be used to predict a case of pasture-associated laminitis (PAL).

Ultimately the researchers hope the work will improve animal welfare by allowing for timely preventative interventions.

Before completing a degree in Biomedical Science, Ward worked in the equestrian and veterinary industries. Involvement in the care and management of horses suffering from acute and chronic laminitis at the University of Glasgow’s Weipers Centre Equine Hospital developed her interest in the study of this debilitating disease.

Ward said she was thrilled to be part of the latest project, which would allow her to use her laboratory experience, develop skills in postgraduate research and, ultimately, produce work which will supplement our current understanding of laminitis.

“I am passionate about working to improve the outcome for horses and ponies that are likely to develop laminitis,” Ward said.

To date, research, much carried out by Spillers via Waltham’s collaborators, has shown associations between some blood markers such as adiponectin, basal insulin, and insulin post-dexamethasone or oral glucose administration, and laminitis risk. Data from the current study will build on this knowledge by evaluating aspects of different metabolic systems, which will provide novel information in this area of research.

Spillers Research and Development Manager Clare Barfoot (RNutr) said the company was excited about Ward’s appointment to help progress this new project.

“We hope it will improve our understanding of changes in the gut microbiome/urinary metabolome associated with pasture-associated laminitis and identify potential novel ways to intervene in its development.”

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