• Christine Keate

Research grant to explore fracture risk in horses

A Senior Research Fellow at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has been awarded a grant, worth nearly £300,000, for vital research exploring the genetic risk of fracture among Thoroughbred horses.

This research paves the way for greater understanding of how best to identify and manage horses at high risk of such fractures and contribute to greater health and welfare of Thoroughbreds.

The grant has been awarded to Dr Debbie Guest by the Alborada Trust, an organisation that supports medical and veterinary causes; research and education and, the relief of poverty, human and animal suffering, sickness and ill-health. Dr Guest and the research team at the RVC used genome wide information to derive types of stem cells known as ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’ (iPSCs) from horses at high and low genetic risk of fracture. These iPSCs can then be turned into the cells which make bone or ‘osteoblasts’. This innovative method allows researchers to study bone from high and low risk horses in the absence of any environmental variability, thus giving them the chance to delve deeply into the purely genetic factors that underpin fracture risk in Thoroughbreds.

Although diagnostic imaging techniques to monitor horses for pre-fracture changes already exist, they are prohibitively expensive to employ on a wide scale. This research from the RVC could allow veterinary professions to identify genetically high risk horses and enable a more targeted – and therefore less expensive – use of these methods.

Furthermore, identifying the mechanisms which underpin genetic risk in horses will allow future research to develop novel therapies and interventions for high risk horses to decrease their risk of catastrophic facture. Identifying horses at high genetic risk would also allow breeders to make informed breeding decisions to reduce the probability of breeding horses at high genetic risk of fracture. This project therefore has the potential to significantly improve the health and welfare of racing Thoroughbreds.

Dr Debbie Guest

Dr Debbie Guest, project lead and Senior Research Fellow at the RVC, said:

“I am delighted to have received funding from the Alborada Trust for this project. Bone fractures are a common problem in racing Thoroughbreds and this work has the potential to make a significant improvement to Thoroughbred health and welfare.”

Professor Sidney Ricketts and David Ellis, joint veterinary advisors to the Alborada Trust, said:

“We are pleased that the Trustees have agreed to support Dr Debbie Guest with this interesting and important research project, and we look forward to following its progress.”


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