UK Strangles Research To Begin

A leading United Kingdom horse charity has teamed up with genome researchers in an effort to beat strangles. The Home of Rest for Horses, based in Buckinghamshire, England, has financed a £250,000 ($390,000) project to decode all the genes in Streptococcus equi, the bacterium that causes strangles.

There are hundreds of strangles outbreaks in the United Kingdom each year.

Outbreaks are difficult to control, and individual cases can be difficult to treat. "The fatality rate is very much outbreak dependent. In some outbreaks it might be zero, but in others it could be anything up to 10%," said Neil Chanter, head of bacteriology at the Animal Health Trust. One of the UK's leading veterinary research organizations, the Animal Health Trust has teamed up with scientists at the Universities of Newcastle and Cambridge to tackle the disease with the help of the Sanger Centre, which is a recognized leader in sequencing genomes.

Although there are several vaccines available to fight strangles, none is totally effective. In the spring of 1999, a new equine intranasal vaccine became available in the United States.

Chanter said, "Research towards an effective strangles vaccine has been severely hampered by an almost complete lack of knowledge of how S. equi causes the disease."

Julian Parkhill, BSc, PhD, leader of the sequencing team at the Sanger Centre, said, "This unique partnership will provide for the first time a focused attack on the molecules that make up S. equi. We believe that the understanding of how this disease-causing organism is put together will help to identify new targets to develop vaccines to prevent it."

Streptococcus equi is highly contagious in equids, but rarely is transmitted to other animals. Strangles is most severe in young horses. The bacterium is thought to use an array of complex mechanisms to invade tissues of the horse and cause disease. An effective vaccine might have to stimulate the immune system to attack several of these mechanisms at once. By identifying all the genes in S. equi, the team predicts that the bacterial mechanisms will be pulled apart much more quickly.

"The arrival of the complete genome sequence plus the technologies to exploit it provides the first opportunity to design a vaccine rationally rather than through the empirical approaches that so far have proven to be not effective," said Chanter. "So for the first time, there is the very real prospect of an effective strangles vaccine (in the UK)".

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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