Equine Medical Genetics Chosen as $2.5-Million Consortium Project

Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) and the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine (UM) jointly announced on Aug. 9 that the foundation has committed to raise $2.5 million over five years to fund the top-ranked consortium project titled "Program in Equine Medical Genetics."  This international project will be based out of the University of Minnesota under the direction of James R. Mickelson, PhD, professor in UM's Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences. The announcement coincided with the groundbreaking for the university's new state-of-the-art equine health center. MAF aims to raise up to $500,000 a year for this project, which will combine the expertise of more than 18 institutions in nine countries around the world.

In December 2005, Morris asked that collaborations of researchers from multiple institutions submit pre-proposals. Proposals were received on topics ranging from respiratory disease to lameness. The MAF Board and an ad hoc review committee of equine scientists and horse industry representatives narrowed the list of 27 pre-proposals to 11 and ranked the projects according to relevancy of the health issue to the horse, scientific merit, humane considerations, and likelihood of donor interest and an outcome from this grant, among other criteria.

Kristin Benjamin, vice president of scientific programs and advancement for MAF, based in Englewood, Colo., said, "The equine medical genetics project rose to the top as it was the top model for our original idea of a consortium grant which was a multi-institutional, collaborative effort. Many of the equine geneticists participating in this consortium project have collaborated for years."

The project will complement the recent announcement of the National Human Genome Research Institute's sequencing and assembly of the equine genome (www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?id=7328). The sequenced genome will provide consortium scientists with valuable tools for solving common equine diseases and disorders at the DNA level.

"If they didn't have these tools, the project would proceed much more slowly," said Benjamin. "They will take a look at specific genes and mutations that regulate development and impact disease," she continued. "By identifying these genes, they're hoping to minimize diseases such as tying-up and HERDA (hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia) as well as understanding genetic influences on complex diseases such as laminitis, arthritis, osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD), and recurrent airway obstruction, or heaves."

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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