Research aims to identify Thoroughbreds at higher genetic risk of leg fractures

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Dr Debbie Guest

Research aimed at identifying Thoroughbred horses that carry a greater genetic risk of catastrophic leg fractures has received a major grant.

Dr Debbie Guest, a senior research fellow with the Royal Veterinary College in London, has been awarded nearly £300,000 by Britain’s Alborada Trust for her research.

It is hoped that Guest’s work will pave the way for a greater understanding of how best to identify and manage horses at high risk of such fractures, and contribute to greater health and welfare of Thoroughbreds.

The trust supports medical and veterinary causes, research and education, and the relief of poverty and of human and animal suffering.

Guest and the research team at the college use genome-wide information to derive types of stem cells known as “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs) from horses at high and low genetic risk of fracture.

These iPSCs can then be turned into the cells which make bone, or osteoblasts.

This innovative method allows researchers to study bone from high and low-risk horses in the absence of any environmental variability, providing them the chance to delve deeply into the purely genetic factors that underpin fracture risk in Thoroughbreds.

Although diagnostic imaging techniques to monitor horses for pre-fracture changes already exist, they are prohibitively expensive to employ on a wide scale.

Guest’s research could ultimately allow veterinarians to identify genetically high-risk horses and enable a more targeted – and therefore less expensive – use of these methods.

Furthermore, identifying the mechanisms which underpin genetic risk in horses will allow future research to develop novel therapies and interventions for high-risk horses to decrease their risk of catastrophic fracture.

Identifying horses at high genetic risk would also allow breeders to make informed breeding decisions to reduce the probability of breeding horses at a high genetic risk of such fracture.

The project, therefore, has the potential to significantly improve the health and welfare of racing Thoroughbreds.

Guest said she was delighted to receiving backing from the trust for the project.

“Bone fractures are a common problem in racing Thoroughbreds and this work has the potential to make a significant improvement to Thoroughbred health and welfare.”

Professor Sidney Ricketts and David Ellis, joint veterinary advisers to the trust, described Guest’s work as an interesting and important research project. “We look forward to following its progress.”

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