Equine research projects for 2021 brings total funding to $30.6m

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More than $US1.5 million is being allocated to equine research this year by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, the most it has ever funded in a year and the seventh consecutive year that more than a million dollars has been approved.

The expenditure of $US1,638,434 ($NZ2.27 million) will fund 12 new projects at 12 universities, 12 continuing projects, and two career development awards of $20,000 each.

Despite the challenging year, the Grayson-Jockey Club received 51 grant applications from a variety of veterinary institutions in North America as well as five other countries. Dell Hancock, chair of Grayson said the foundation was “heartened by the continued commitment of universities to supporting equine veterinary research throughout these difficult times and that we are able to distribute more funding than ever before, enabling us to help horses of all breeds and disciplines”.

Among the projects are several focusing on racing and performance horses. These include research at the University of Melbourne by Chris Whitton looking at patterns in bone fatigue accrual over time in racehorses, to aid in the earlier identification of horses at risk of limb injury. Another, by Peter Muir of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will look at establishing screening using fetlock CT for diagnosis of horses with a high risk of imminent serious injury.

The 2021 slate of research brings Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation’s totals since 1983 to more than $30.6 million to underwrite 396 projects at 45 universities.

Dr Stephen M. Reed, chair of Grayson’s research advisory committee, said the range of projects varied. “The subject matter is diverse and ranges from identifying new methods to treat and prevent infectious disease to development of computational models using big data to investigation of novel imaging techniques to prevent orthopedic injuries.”

The Storm Cat Career Development Award, inaugurated in 2006, grants $20,000 to an individual considering a career in equine research. This year’s recipient is Dr Callum G. Donelly of the University of California, Davis, who completed his residency program and is in a research training position under the mentorship of Dr Carrie Fino. His project, “Proteomic Investigation of Equine Spinal Ataxia,” is expected to identify novel protein biomarkers that differentiate normal horses from those with spinal ataxia, with high sensitivity and specificity.

The Elaine and Bertram Klein Career Development Award was first awarded in 2015 and grants $20,000 to a prospective equine researcher. This year’s recipient is Dr Aileen Rowland of Texas A&M University. Her research focuses on the efficacy of xenogeny-free mesenchymal stem cells for osteoarthritis.

The new research projects are (listed alphabetically by school):

Passive Immunization of Foals with RNA-AB against R Equi – Jeroen Pollet, Baylor College of Medicine. By inhalation therapy, we intend to deliver the genetic code for a protective antibody against Rhodococcus equi into the lung cells of newborn foals, to rapidly protect them against infection.

Hyperthermia and Acidosis in Exertional Muscle Damage – Michael Davis, Oklahoma State University. This project will identify an underlying cause of exercise-associated muscle fatigue and soreness and allow trainers to more precisely condition horses with fewer training days lost to muscle soreness.

Developing an Improved Serological Test for Strangles – Noah Cohen, Texas A&M. We propose to develop a more accurate blood test to identify horses infected with the bacterium that causes strangles to improve control and prevention of strangles.

Mitigation of Equine Recurrent Uveitis through SOCS – Joseph Larkin, University of Florida. We seek to design a topical eye drop, using a natural protein, which helps to prevent pain and blindness associated with equine recurrent uveitis.

Environmental Origins of Equine Antimicrobial Resistance – Brandy Burgess, University of Georgia. This study will elucidate how antimicrobial resistance and virulence determinants are shared among horses and hospital environment, as well as the role antimicrobial exposure plays at this interface.

Treatment of Joint Injury with Mesenchymal Stromal Cells – Thomas Koch, University of Guelph. Evaluation of equine umbilical cord blood-derived mesenchymal stromal cells to treat joint injuries in horses.

Optimizing Bone Growth to Reduce Equine Fracture – Mariana Kersh, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Reduction in distal limb fractures through exercise in young horses would have a significant positive impact on horse welfare and the economics and public perception of the horse industry.

New Generation Equine Influenza Bivalent VLP Vaccine – Thomas Chambers, University of Kentucky. We propose to create a novel, safe and effective vaccine for equine influenza based on the 21st-century technology of noninfectious virus-like particles produced in plants.

Injury Prediction from Stride Derived Racing Load – Chris Whitton, University of Melbourne. By studying patterns in bone fatigue accrual over time in racehorses, we will better, and earlier, identify horses at risk of limb injury, facilitating timely evidence-based preventative strategies. 

Predicting Exercising Arrhythmias with Resting ECGs – Molly McCue, University of Minnesota. We will use at rest ECGs to identify horses with irregular heart rhythms at exercise that can cause sudden cardiac death (SCD), allowing for increased monitoring and improved understanding of SCD.

Understanding and Preventing Supporting Limb Laminitis – Andrew Van Eps, University of Pennsylvania. We aim to make supporting limb laminitis preventable through analysis of archived model tissues, a multi-center limb motion study of horses at risk, and development of a prototype therapeutic device.

Diagnosis of Incipient Condylar Stress Fracture – Peter Muir, University of Wisconsin-Madison. This study will save the lives of racehorses by establishing screening using fetlock CT for diagnosis of horses with a high risk of imminent serious injury for personalized clinical care.

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