Determining Precise Link Between Tent Caterpillar and MRLS is Continuing Priority for Equine Industry

Leading Kentucky equine industry groups recently brought together 31 veterinarians and scientists for a "Think Tank" meeting to further the industry's knowledge about preventing future occurrences of mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS).

At the end of the intensive one-day meeting held in Lexington Jan. 10, the group concluded that a priority for ongoing and future research should be establishing the precise mechanism that links the Eastern tent caterpillar to MRLS.

"Eliminating the caterpillar is certainly our number one goal in terms of prevention, but we also have to find out exactly what‚s causing the problem," said Bill Bernard, practitioner with Rood and Riddle hospital and president of the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners. "It's possible we could make a real breakthrough in reproductive health if we identified the toxin or agent that‚s responsible within the caterpillars."

There are two approaches to solving MRLS now being pursued. One approach theorizes a biologic agent associated with the caterpillar, such as a virus or bacterium, is the cause. The other approach presumes the presence in the caterpillar of a toxin or chemical agent.

"In light of these two competing approaches the group agreed that it makes a lot of sense that the first step in our research should be to decide if it‚s biologic or chemical," Bernard said. "The group also expressed a strong interest in trying to establish a research model using an animal other than a horse, in other words the laboratory rat or mouse or guinea pig that could be used to test theories rapidly and inexpensively. As yet we don't know what animal it would be."

An important aspect of the Think Tank meeting was to continue the ongoing collaboration among various equine industry groups investigating the cause of MRLS.

"This meeting represented one more step in the continuing team effort to address an industry concern and maintain profitability for our equine sector, which is Kentucky's top agricultural commodity," said David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, Inc. and Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, Inc.

Participants came from several states, including Virginia, Texas, Florida, Michigan, and New York. Scientists from both private industry and public universities were represented, including Murray State University and the University of Kentucky.

"The meeting provided a great forum in partnership with the veterinary community to try to bring some new ideas and new tools to the ongoing effort of solving the problem," said Nancy Cox, associate dean for research in the UK College of Agriculture.

The Think Tank meeting was sponsored by the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, and Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Associates.

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