Visiting Scientists Target Endometritis

The University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center plays host to visiting scientists from around the world, and this summer was no exception. Mette Christoffersen, DVM, and Morten Petersen, PhD, DVM, Dipl. ACT, both from the University of Copenhagen, and Pauline Peugent, a French student working on her master's degree, have spent several months in Lexington researching equine reproduction.

Christoffersen and Petersen learned about the opportunity to study at the Gluck Center from Department of Veterinary Science chair Mats Troedsson, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACT, who has a strong partnership with the University of Copenhagen.

Petersen will conduct research at the Gluck Center until December, and Christoffersen hopes to stay until the end of the fall semester.

Christoffersen's research focuses on the immunologic response to bacterial endometritis in resistant versus susceptible mares. Endometritis is an infection in the superficial layer of the uterus. Mares with signs of persistent endometritis that are unable to clear their uterus of bacteria and inflammation within the normal time period are often called “susceptible mares.” Christoffersen studied the inflammatory response in the uterus and systemically. She hopes to soon begin a new study at Gluck that will compare the effectiveness of two treatments (dexamethazone and immunomodulating compound) on bacterial endometritis in susceptible mares.

Petersen, who has studied at the Gluck Center through support by the Albert and Lorraine Clay Fellowship, also focused on endometritis in mares. Some bacteria can establish infections deep in the uterine wall and become inactive. Their presence affects uterine gland secretion and could potentially lead to pregnancy loss. Inactive or "dormant" bacteria, located deep in the endometrium, are difficult to identify and treat effectively. Petersen’s research sought to discover a new diagnostic tool for uncovering unapparent endometritis infections. Petersen and Christoffersen agreed the Gluck Center's facilities made it easy to conduct extensive studies.

"You don't see this amount of research horses in many universities," Christoffersen said.

"In this area of research you can get valuable information from samples collected from broodmares, but you need control animals [animals studied without a given test for comparison]. That's where research animals come in," Petersen said.

Both scientists have narrowed their fields of interest to equine reproduction over the course of their careers. Christoffersen's family owned Standardbreds, and she spent three years in private veterinary practice in Denmark before beginning her PhD. During her time as a veterinarian, she became fascinated with the value of broodmares as economic vehicles, as well as their importance to their owners.

Petersen's fascination with bacterial reproduction diseases is more mental.

"I see it as a challenge, to see if you can crack the code of biology and improve reproductive efficiency … it's fascinating how, on one side, an animal tries to cope with infections and, on the other, how the bacteria modulates to maximize its chances of establishing an infection, and we need to understand both aspects. As a clinician I try to observe, diagnose, and treat, but primarily prevent," he said.

Assisting Petersen and Christoffersen in their research was Peugent. She came to the Gluck Center in July for the 10th International Symposium on Equine Reproduction and saw the facility as an opportunity for specialized study.

Peugent completed the equivalent to a bachelor's degree in agricultural engineering and is focusing on applied biology of animal products for her master's degree. While interested in horses and fascinated by the lab work she did with Petersen and Christoffersen, Peugent said she has not committed to a specific field of study after her degree program is completed.

"For the moment I am open-minded. I still have time to decide," she said.

All three visiting scientists said working in America's horse country was an excellent opportunity. Researchers at the Gluck Center there were equally happy to host them.

"It has been a real pleasure to have so many visiting scientists come to work in Dr. Troedsson's lab at Gluck," Kristen Scoggin, PhD, said. "Each person brings their own expertise and unique set of skills such that we can all learn from each other."

"Collaborations with researchers and research groups around the world [are] part of the Gluck Center's national and international leadership," Troedsson said.

Troedsson said the Clay Fellowship is vital for international scientists wanting to do research at the Gluck Center, calling it "very valuable in our interactions and collaboration with scientists around the world."

The Gluck Center does not have a formal application process or program for interns or scientists from other countries, and those interested should contact Troedsson personally. For more information about the Gluck Center and its programs, visit the website.

Natalie Voss is a UK equine communications intern and recent graduate in equine science and management.

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