Research... Missing Dollars

Leaders in veterinary research and the equine industry should develop policy initiatives that recognize needed changes in the research landscape. Equine medicine remains grossly underfunded. As companion animals, horses receive few government research dollars. Rustin Moore, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, professor and chair of The Ohio State University's Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, and a leading laminitis researcher, has estimated that $10 million would be required to fund a coordinated effort to unravel the mysteries of laminitis. The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation provided about $1 million last year to a number of different equine health-related projects ... not enough for a full assault on any particular priority.

Finding funding for research is a perennial first priority. Industry and academic leaders must develop policies to coordinate and expedite efforts to disseminate research results. Five areas for consideration include the following:

#1 Encourage political support for automatic funding directly from within the industry. European racing and sales have long provided levy boards that provide financial support to equine research. In the United States, no such mandated funding exists. For example, when Kentucky was poised to present its expanded gaming bill, initially no part of its projected $350 million to $400 million of new revenue would go to equine research. Subsequently, the bill was altered to provide 2.5% for "agricultural research" and purposely did not specify equine research. So out of a potential $10 million for research, none was earmarked for the animal that represents Kentucky's signature industry. The bill did not pass. The situation is similar in other states, including Ohio, a state with a vibrant racing industry. Our industry leaders must be willing to lobby for "automatic" funding for research as "new dollars" cross our paths. Consider how much support could be received if the approved and pending cumulative expanded gaming monies at racetrack racinos and casinos in Iowa, West Virginia, Minnesota, New Jersey, Canada, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia, Florida, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maine, and California supported research and welfare through automatic dollars. Louisiana does provide funding from these sources to support equine research, and prospective states such as Texas and Kentucky should become proactive.

#2 Create a national funding agency to receive and distribute the lion's share of "automatic" dollars to the best and brightest minds in the world. Funds generated in one state should be available to researchers in another state. Human cancer research dollars are not necessarily limited by geography, but are made available to the best researchers for the most critical research projects. In contrast, dollars generated from benevolent donors should electively be localized for uses such as buildings and equipment rarely funded by foundations with project timelines.

#3 Support collaborative, multicenter research that coordinates funding from different sources (such as the different Barbaro memorial fund groups) and at the same time reduces the costs and confusion of simultaneous and clandestine research duplication. Duplication may be regarded as an asset when researchers are less competitive and secretive, allowing results to be compared openly.

#4 Support invitational research and expedite the grant proposal process. Laminitis research should involve not only academic clinicians, but also practitioners who would rarely, if ever, submit a formal grant proposal. Allow grant applications to be simultaneously submitted to numerous funding groups that may rank them much the same as the residency matching programs operate among universities with cooperative timelines. Agencies must develop new paradigms for proposal preparation and submission, as well as collaboration requests.

#5 Support expedited dissemination of information. A grant proposal may be months in the making, several more months in the review process, many months or even years to complete the project, and sometimes a year or more before acceptance for publication, before finally going to press. New technologies can streamline the flow of research information to practitioners.

The horse needs our commitments for its health and welfare. Our industry is capable of dignifying the future by speaking on the horse's behalf. We provide millions of dollars to the human side of the equine industry and are a multibillion dollar international commerce that generates paltry fiscal amounts to the animal itself. We currently do not proportionately provide for the health and welfare of the horse, even when monies lie within reach.

About the Author

Doug Byars, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM

Doug Byars, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, is Director of the medicine clinic at Hagyard-Davidson-McGee equine practice in Lexington, Ky.

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