EHV, Botulism, Stem Cell Among New Grayson-Jockey Club Projects

Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation will fund 17 projects in 2009. Additionally, the group announced today that Paul Lunn, MRCVS, BVSc, PhD, Dipl ACVIM, of Colorado State University has been elected to succeed Larry Bramlage, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, as the chairman of its Research Advisory Committee.

The 17 projects, totaling $874,894, were approved at a recent meeting of the foundation board of directors. They will address a broad spectrum of issues, including improved tracking of injuries to Thoroughbreds in training.

The 2009 research funding brings the foundation's recent totals to more than $16.3 million to fund 246 projects at three dozen universities since 1983.

Dr. Lunn

Dr. Paul Lunn, chairman of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation's Research Advisory Committee.

Bramlage served as chairman of the Research Advisory Committee for 11 years, but stepped down recently because of time constraints involving his surgical obligations and the various industry service initiatives in which he participates. Bramlage remains a member of the foundation board of directors.

Lunn is a professor and the head of the Department of Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. Before moving to Colorado in 2003, Lunn worked as an equine medicine faculty member and teaching hospital director at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Lunn has specialized recently in equine immunology and infectious disease and has been a recipient of various Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation grants.

The 32-person Research Advisory Committee carefully evaluates all projects submitted to the foundation and recommends to the board of directors which ones have the greatest potential impact while also representing excellent science.

"There is no way to adequately thank Larry Bramlage for his guidance over the last 11 years," said foundation Chairman Dell Hancock. "Grayson funded 137 widely respected research projects with $10 million under his watch. Drs. Gary Lavin (vice chairman), Johnny Mac Smith (veterinary consultant), and Bramlage have found an excellent replacement in Dr. Paul Lunn, who shares their dedication to the horse and to research. He has served on our Research Advisory Committee more than once, and I can think of no better person to succeed Larry."

Among the 17 funded projects is a project on stem cell treatment of suspensory desmitis, which was selected by the board to receive the third annual Elastikon Equine Research Award. This award recognizes an annual contribution made by the Consumer Products Division of Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of Elastikon tape and other equine products.

In addition to funding the 17 research projects, the board also awarded the Storm Cat Career Development Award to Melissa King, DVM, a PhD graduate student at Colorado State. King will be working with Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, DSc, FRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, on a study of the role of underwater treadmill exercise in diminishing the development of osteoarthritis.

The $15,000 Storm Cat Career Development Award is underwritten by a board member, Lucy Young Hamilton, and is named for the leading sire Storm Cat, who stood at her family's Overbrook Farm.

Following are summaries of the funded projects beginning in 2009, followed by a list of two-year projects begun in 2008:

Incidence of Non-Fatal Injuries in Racing Thoroughbreds
Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, Colorado State University

This project is complementary to the Equine Injury Database launched after the first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit held by The Jockey Club and the foundation. It addresses the fact that many injuries occur in training or are discovered after the fact of racing and thus would not be included in the national database of on-track injuries. Four veterinarians representing a large percentage of Southern California stables have agreed to report injuries for central collection. The hypotheses are 1) objective collection of injury data will allow estimation of incidence and type of non-fatal injuries, and 2) these data will be used to evaluate the effects of racetrack surface characteristics and management on the type and incidence of non-fatal injuries.

A New Approach for Speedy Diagnosis of Botulism
Dr. Robert H. Whitlock, University of Pennsylvania

More than two dozen botulism outbreaks are anticipated annually, and the disease is frequently fatal. The increasing use of large round hay bales increases the danger of botulism in the equine population throughout North America. Routine current diagnosis requires up to three weeks. By converting from standard microbiological methods to molecular biology-based assays (PCR assay), these researchers seek to create a marked decrease in the time it takes to diagnose botulism. Survival of botulism depends on treatment with antitoxin as soon as possible, so speedier diagnosis should enhance survival rates.

Prevention of Equine Herpesvirus-1 Myseloencephalitis by Delayed Therapy
Dr. Lara Maxwell, Oklahoma State University

This study will seek to determine whether drug therapy can be effective if applied in barns where equine herpesvirus-1 has gone unidentified until horses are in the latter stages of infection. At that stage of infection, neurological disease can be expected to develop within a few days. This research team has found that the antiviral drug valacyclovir is effective if administered early in the course of the infection, and this new project is designed to help protect horses from developing crippling disease and also in reducing the contagious period of the infection.

Stem Cell Treatment for Suspensory Desmitis (Elastikon Equine Research Award)
Dr. Robert Schneider, Washington State University

Injury to the proximal suspensory ligament of the hind limb is a common cause of lameness, and no treatment exists that can allow a high percentage of horses to return to normal. Mesenchymal stem cells, obtained from bone marrow, are being used to treat various ligament and tendon injuries in horses, but the practice is still in the pioneering stages. This project will test whether treatment with the stem cells will improve healing as compared to rest alone. Also, it will test the hypothesis that MRI will evaluate healing more accurately than ultrasound.

Antiviral Drugs to Combat Equine Herpesvirus-1 Infection
Dr. Arthur Frampton, University of North Carolina-Wilmington

Equine herpesvirus-1 continues to be a major problem, which can result in paralysis and, in the case of pregnant mares, abortion. While a number of research projects on EHV-1 are ongoing, there is not an effective long-lasting vaccine, so horses are subjected to repeated vaccination. This proposal seeks a solution other than vaccination, i.e., that a better approach might be surveillance and health monitoring coupled with antiviral drugs after EHV-1 infection. This approach would seek to lessen significantly the possibility of an infected horse becoming paralyzed or aborting. Many horses recover from EHV-1, and the treatment protocol suggested here could be expected to improve that rate.

Developing Equine Bone Morphogenetic Protein for Cartilage and Bone Repair
Dr. Matthew Stewart, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne

Bone morphogenetic protein 2 has been effective in human medicine for fracture repair and spinal fusions. This project seeks to develop an equine BMP-2 gene therapeutic reagent and demonstrate that it can be applied to stimulate accelerated bone formation and cartilage repair. Another noted researcher, Dr. Mark Markel, recently observed that "there are currently no groups producing sufficient quantities of equine BMP-2 necessary for clinical applications." The above project is designed to help fill that need.

Prevention of Placentitis-Induced Labor in Mares
Dr. Peter L. Ryan, Mississippi State University

This study will establish information for development of drug treatment that can prevent pre-term birth in mares affected by placentitis. This would reduce the incidence of foals born with neurological compromise. The hypothesis is that combination of antibiotics and immunomodulatory drugs (i.e., progestins, aspirin, corticosteroids) can overcome the problem and result in a normal foal.

Two-Year Projects Begun in 2008:

  • Hydrocortisone Replacement Therapy in Septic Foals
    Dr. Michelle Henry Barton, University of Georgia
  • Does Airborne Exposure Predict Pneumonia?
    Dr. Noah Cohen, Texas A&M University
  • Mapping Occlusion of Veins in EIPH
    Dr. Fred Derksen, Michigan State University
  • Differentiated Stem Cells for Cartilage Repair
    Dr. Alan Nixon, Cornell University
  • A Respiratory Model on Interactions of Virus and Host
    Dr. Gisela Sobol, Colorado State University
  • Xenografting to Study Testicular Function in Stallions
    Drs. Ina Dobrinski and Regina Turner, University of Pennsylvania
  • Neuropathogenesis of EHV-1 Infection
    Dr. Lutz S. Goehring, Colorado State University
  • Molecular and Cellular Level Studies of Laminitis
    Dr. Hannah Galantino-Homer, University of Pennsylvania
  • Mechanisms of Maintenance of Early Pregnancy
    Dr. Keith Betteridge, Guelph University
  • Equine Cord Blood Stem Cells--from Farm to Point of Care
    Dr. Dean Betts, Guelph University
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