Curiosity drives equine researcher to improve horse health

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Dr Todd Holbrook: "That’s the root of all research … the excitement of pursuing an answer that could potentially improve the health of a horse."
Dr Todd Holbrook: “That’s the root of all research … the excitement of pursuing an answer that could potentially improve the health of a horse.” © Oklahoma State University

The excitement of pursuing an answer that could potentially improve the health of a horse is what motivates equine researcher Dr Todd Holbrook, who specialises in equine internal medicine and sports medicine.

Holbrook holds the June Jacobs Chair in Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He first undertook research about 25 years ago during his equine residency at the University of Georgia and never stopped.

Holbrook is board certified in both veterinary internal medicine and sports medicine and rehabilitation. He describes himself as a “clinician scientist”, working in the equine clinic at the college’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, as well as teaching veterinary students, interns and residents. His research encompasses diagnostic-type investigations and Holbrook will often collaborate with multiple institutions or private practices to study specific diseases.

“For example, we worked with nine teaching hospitals and four private equine hospitals in the United States investigating viral causes of liver failure in horses. Our findings revealed that parvovirus was the primary virus associated with liver failure.

“As a result, the industry that supplies plasma products and blood products for the treatment of horses has tried to eliminate this virus from their donor herds, which can greatly impact the health of horses in the future,” Holbrook said.

“My hypothesis-driven research focuses on endurance exercise and cardiology, linking back to my two specialties — internal medicine and sports medicine. We have investigated the impact of exercising and fitness on cardiac function in endurance horses and the impact of long-distance exercise in horses on cardiac stress, metabolism and intestinal motility.”

He said that disseminating the knowledge gained from collaborative research to practicing veterinarians leads to the improvement of equine welfare and health.

“For example, working with six different colleges across the US, our research on persimmon impactions as a cause of colic in horses identified important treatment options that successfully managed that cause of colic.”

Holbrook’s intellectual curiosity feeds his pursuit of research.

“It’s stimulating to work with other bright-minded clinicians and scientists to improve equine health. That’s the root of all research … the excitement of pursuing an answer that could potentially improve the health of a horse.

“Many diseases that affect horses are in dire need of further research. Unfortunately, most diseases I deal with as an internist don’t have a significant overall impact on the horse industry economy to warrant grant agency support.

“So I’m really grateful for people like the Jacobs, who support research through endowed chairs, and to OSU for the opportunity to do important research and pursue answers to what may seem like smaller questions, as far as the industry is concerned, but which can really impact the health of the horse.”

Article courtesy Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

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