English researchers are working to move airway disease screening and diagnostics from the lab into the barn.

Equine HealthCare, a company based in the U.K., is developing a new respiratory diagnostic test based on measuring the amount of hydrogen peroxide--which can indicate airway inflammation--in exhaled breath condensate. Horse owners would be able to perform the test themselves, and they could then determine whether or not to call their veterinarian based on the results.

"Our intention has been to develop a simple, quick, and inexpensive test to help trainers and owners detect respiratory problems in their horses," says Helle Funch Nielsen, managing director of Equine HealthCare. "We have focused on creating a product that is as user-friendly as possible, so that nonlaboratory people can run the test."

The test uses a small, noninvasive collector to obtain a sample of breath condensate over about 90 seconds. A separate sensor-based analyzer then measures the level of hydrogen peroxide in the condensate just after collection. The analysis only takes a few minutes, and the sensor can run as many analyses as needed (although the sensor does need to be changed daily).

Hydrogen peroxide is released as a result of airway inflammation, which can be caused by anything from a bacterial infection to recurrent airway obstruction (heaves). An increased level of the chemical in exhaled breath condensate would indicate that such inflammation is present, and owners would then need to consult a veterinarian to determine its source and the proper course of treatment.

"The levels of hydrogen peroxide can also be used to follow the progress of treatment," Nielsen suggests. "As the condition improves, you will be able to see the level of hydrogen peroxide decrease, indicating the effectiveness of the treatment."

The test device, tentatively named "Equinair," is currently subject to a licensing agreement with international animal health company Stirling Products Limited, and Nielsen expects it to be on the market in the United States by the end of 2008.

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