• Christine Keate

Equine grass sickness - a 100 year old mystery

A unique event hosted by the world-renowned Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh has created a blueprint for future research to solve a 100 year mystery afflicting horses across the world

Equine Grass Sickness is the most devastating disease affecting horses - with no known cause, and no known cure. Healthy sport, leisure and family horses can be found dead in their fields and stables with no explanation. In other cases, horses are found in a depressed state which quickly results in the inability to swallow and digest forage. Most cases result in euthanasia. Some horses do survive but require years of rehabilitation. A minority go back to a full, healthy and productive life.

On 24th March, more than 30 scientists with no previous experience of Equine Grass Sickness, gathered at the Moredun Research Institute for a day exploring new approaches to the disease. Experts in veterinary immunology, genetics, molecular biology, bacteriology and pathology along with environmental scientists from areas such as soil, grassland and catchment science and plant health and mycology specialists, convened for a day of discussion and debate.

Over eight hours the volunteer scientists, with a reputation for engaging new technology in their own research and, with no previous knowledge of the disease, heard from experts in the field before being put into multi-disciplinary groups to find new areas for research focus.

Event organiser and Moredun’s Principal Investigator, Dr Beth Wells believes this will mark a watershed in the century old quest to find a solution to the Equine Grass Sickness mystery.

Bringing together so many disciplines in one room, for one day, to discuss an animal disease of which they have no previous knowledge is unique. Their input is a game-changer in terms of generating new areas of research or new technologies that can revive previous research. The Equine Grass Sickness Fund needs more funding to support research in new areas. We appeal to the industries that benefit from equine ownership and sport to provide the funding we need to bring an end to the misery of Equine Grass Sickness.”

This event will result in grant applications to take the ideas generated to new research projects.

Kate Thompson, from the Equine Grass Sickness Fund, is optimistic that EGS can become a disease of the past.

I am so grateful for Moredun Research Institute taking a lead with such an innovative and productive event. We couldn’t have done it without the support of SEFARI Gateway - the knowledge exchange hub for the Scottish Environment Food and Agriculture Research Institutes. I genuinely feel we are at the beginning of a new era of research, to find a solution to something that is the worst fear of every horse owner.”

Kathy Geyer, Moredun Research fellow, who is managing the Equine Grass Sickness Biobank, hopes today’s event and subsequent awareness within the scientific community will result in many more samples to progress the research.

Today’s collaboration is just the start of new relationships with people and organisations across the scientific and equine community. It is only through the sharing of knowledge, experience and samples that we will be able to achieve the goal of eradicating Equine Grass Sickness, not just in Scotland but across the world.”


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