Scientists at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) have received funding for a study into the genetic risk of fractures in Thoroughbred racehorses.
The 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.
It is possible to monitor horses using diagnostic imaging techniques (such as radiography and CT scan) to identify changes in bones that could lead to fractures. However, such techniques are too expensive for routine use. This new research could potentially allow veterinary professionals to identify genetically high-risk horses and enable a more targeted – and therefore less expensive – use of these methods.
The research team at the RVC have 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 osteoblasts, the cells that produce bone. 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 look closely at the purely genetic factors that underpin fracture risk in Thoroughbreds.
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.
The research has been made possible by a grant awarded by the Alborada Trust, an organisation that supports medical and veterinary causes, research and education and the relief of poverty and of human and animal suffering, sickness and ill-health.
Lead researcher, Dr Debbie Guest, 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.”