WSU Researchers Awarded $1.4 Million to Study Equine Infectious Anemia

Faculty members at Washington State University have been awarded a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the equine infectious anemia (EIA) virus in horses. The grant was awarded to Susan Carpenter, PhD, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, along with her departmental colleagues Robert Mealey, DVM, PhD, and Lindsay Oaks, DVM, PhD, and Karin Dorman, PhD, associate professor at Iowa State University.

Their research could improve vaccine strategies that may one day help control the spread of EIA. Currently, according to USDA guidelines, a horse that has tested positive for EIA must be quarantined for life or euthanized.

The EIA virus evades detection by the immune system because of its ability to constantly change and adapt. This has made developing successful vaccines or other disease management tools a challenge. Using longitudinal studies, Carpenter and her research group can better understand how the virus survives.

"Our group wants to discover the strategies the virus uses to escape immune control and how it changes over time," said Carpenter. "We want to understand how the virus persists."

EIA, like other lentiviruses, is a life-long infection. While some horses become ill and die quickly, many show few clinical signs. Because the acute signs, like fever, might also be attributable to other illnesses, it is often difficult to diagnose EIA, particularly if the horse recovers quickly. Currently, routine testing is the best way to control the disease from spreading.

Because of similarities and differences with the other members of the lentivirus genus, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), EIA is a model disease that may one day provide clues to help fight similar infections in other species, benefiting both animals and humans; the primary focus of the NIH.

"Receiving this highly competitive grant is a testament to the extraordinary research done by Dr. Carpenter, and to the strength of the equine infectious anemia program at the WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine," said David Prieur, DVM, MS, PhD, chair of the department. "Securing a National Institutes of Health grant in this year's funding climate is a very significant achievement."

"WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine has one of the top equine immunology research programs in the country," said Carpenter, who was recruited to WSU in 2005 because of her virus research record at Iowa State University.

"The WSU equine immunology program, the availability of horses, the support of the college and the USDA all make this a great place to do research," she said.--Marcia Hill Gossard

Reprinted from the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Equine News Summer 2008 issue.

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