New System For Testing Lung Disease In Horses Developed

Dr. Andrew Hoffman, the director of the Issam M. Fares Equine Sports Medicine Program and an Assistant Professor of Large Animal Medicine at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass., has long been involved in the study of Small Airway Disease (SAD). In part due to his research, Tufts has become a leader in diagnosing and treating horses suffering from SAD, which produces asthma-like symptoms that make it difficult for horses to breathe, particularly during strenuous exercise.

But for every afflicted horse that Tufts and other universities and private clinics can help, there are dozens more whose symptoms go undetected until the disease is well advanced, manifesting itself in the form of severe asthma attacks. Hoffman hopes to change that with a newly developed portable system for testing lung function in horses.

The new system, according to Hoffman, fits into a suitcase and consists of "a laptop and some software, some elastic bands and a mask (which fits over the horse's face, like a respirator). It's much easier." A complex mathematical model run through the computer analyzes the animal's breathing into the mask. A simple computer display shows the results of the test. The portable system has the potential to be a breakthrough diagnostic tool because it will enable practicing veterinarians to diagnose and treat SAD in its earliest stages, when the disease can be easily managed with day-to-day treatment.

If left unchecked, SAD develops slowly but inexorably. "First a horse loses a microsecond in a race," said Hoffman. "Then it gets worse, and the horse loses one or two seconds. Then they cough. And then they get mucus in their airways and cough more. Then they have serious exercise intolerance. And then they get it really bad and go into an asthma attack, which veterinarians can clearly see and treat." At that point, however, treatment will only clear the condition temporarily, so early detection is the best form of medicine.

Hoffman hopes to field-test the device this fall at stables and racetracks.

—Equine CareWatch

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