Workshop On Airway Disease

The first International Workshop on Equine Chronic Airway Disease was held June 16-18 at Michigan State University. Thirty of the world's leading investigators of equine airway disease met, along with representatives of pharmaceutical companies.

The meeting was sponsored by the Matilda R. Wilson Fund and Boehringer-Ingelheim Animal Health USA.

The participants reached agreement on several important issues during the conference: terminology, criteria for defining research populations, and methodology for obtaining samples.

"Because there isn't a lot of money for this kind of research, it doesn't make sense for us to duplicate each other's laboratories, some of which have very specialized technology," said Edward Robinson, BVetMed, MRCVS, PhD, Matilda R. Wilson Professor of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at MSU, and organizer of the workshop. "It's much better for us each to build on our strengths and to share the research material around the world."

One recommendation of the group was that the term "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease" or COPD no longer be used to refer to equine chronic airway disease. The human disease referred to as COPD bears little resemblance to the horse disease of the same name.

"There is no question that there is a real need to try to bring some semblance of commonality to the nomenclature that is used to describe chronic equine pulmonary diseases around the world. There are clearly differences in meaning between the use of the same terms by researchers and practitioners," said Warwick M. Bayly, BVSc, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, who attended and presented at the conference. Bayly is Interim Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, Professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, and McEachern Distinguished Professor in Equine Medicine.

"Consistency in the use of these terms will probably only come about when and if veterinary students are being taught the same thing with regard to disease definition, characteristics, and diagnosis. The first step in this regard is to agree on what is meant by terms like 'recurrent airway obstruction (RAO),' airway disease, and COPD. The meeting went a long way to accomplishing this," he added. RAO was agreed upon to describe the severe airway obstruction of mature horses that is reversed by changes in environment or by use of bronchiodilators.

"Inflammatory airway disease" will be used to describe airway inflammation in the younger horse, often in racehorses in training.

The group also made a strong recommendation against the use of certain diagnostic tests that involve measurements of the immune system. Robinson explained that the immunopathology of heaves is unclear, and the role of allergies is undefined. If heaves is an immune response to factors in the environment, the production of antibodies is most likely localized in the lung, and not reflected in tests made on plasma or the skin. The use of skin testing and desensitization are not supported by science.

"Treatment options we do know to be effective are environmental modifications and use of corticosteroids and bronchodilators," he said.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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