In The News

Thursday, February 26, 2004


Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation Announces $850,888 in Grants for 2004


Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation today announced $850,888 in funding for 20 projects in 2004. The funding will be distributed to principal investigating scientists at a dozen universities and brings the foundation's total funding since 1983 to $11,047,105 to underwrite 189 projects at 31 universities.

The research funded in 2004 includes the launch of 11 new projects and the continuation of nine two-year projects approved last year. Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation funds only research that is relative to the health and safety of the horse.

The foundation board, chaired by John Hettinger, met in Florida recently to act on the recommendations of Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation's 33-person Research Advisory Committee. The committee, chaired by Dr. Larry Bramlage, involves private veterinary practitioners and university research veterinarians from across North America. It annually evaluates all proposals sent to the foundation and ranks them for the board on the basis of the excellence of scientific methodology and impact on the horse industry, which are both regarded as paramount.

The new projects in 2004 include research on current and developing topics that affect horses of all breeds and uses. They include foal pneumonia, more effective relief of pain in sick and injured horses and improved ways to prevent proximal sesamoid fractures.

"We are always proud to fund projects which combine excellent science and high relevance," said Edward L. Bowen, president of Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. "The many important areas of progress in the past in horse care have been created by the knowledge, innovation and dedication by such professionals. Future progress will be developed by a similar combination, and Grayson-Jockey Club will continue to be the economic facilitator."

Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 organization that is funded solely by donations and investment management. Any individual or organization with an interest in horses is welcome as a member and/or donor and can contact the foundation at 821 Corporate Drive, Lexington, KY 40503-2794; phone: (859) 224-2850; e-mail:

Following is a list of the new projects being launched with Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, followed by projects entering their second year.

New Projects

Seeking a Breakthrough on Combatting Foal Pneumonia

Dr. Mary Hondalus, Harvard School of Public Health

First year: $55,205

Foal pneumonia caused by Rhodococcus equi continues to be a major cause of loss of life. An effective vaccine would clearly be of great benefit. These researchers propose to pursue use of a particular strain of R. equi (a strain that requires riboflavin supplementation in order to grow) to create an immune response. The particular strain is described as a "live-attenuated riboflavin auxotropic strain." Since it is lacking riboflavin, this strain cannot be virulent. Live-attenuated vaccines have proven effective against other bacterial systems.

Genetic Determinants of Equine Herpesvirus-I CNS Disease

Dr. George P. Allen, University of Kentucky

First year: $30,000

Reviewers of this grant cited the importance of the subject, describing the disease as "devastating and increasingly common." The form of the Herpesvirus outbreak in Ohio last year was the CNS (Central Nervous System) version, a high mortality disease. This research puts emphasis on a better understanding of Equine Herpesvirus-I and, more specifically, seeks to define the genetic viral determinants that enable its effect on the equine central nervous system. This study follows up on preliminary observations by the research team, and the ultimate practical objective would be to identify a precise molecular target for intervention in the face of an outbreak.

Seeking More Effective and Humane Pain Management for Horses

Dr. Linda Christine Sanchez, University of Florida

One year: $46,730

Opiates are commonly used for pain relief for some animal species, but the horse traditionally has not been the beneficiary of this form of relief because of indications of side effects, including a sequence resulting in colic. Recently, however, research has indicated that some agents might be effective for management of moderate to severe pain. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is effective in other species, and this project will seek to determine whether it can be effective on behalf of the horse while avoiding negative side effects.

Proximal Sesamoid Fractures

Dr. Sue Stover, University of California-Davis

One year: $62,416

This project is one of a continuing series which utilizes the California racing commission's mandate that all horses euthanized at race tracks and/or training centers be autopsied. The research team in this case will be seeking to verify that there are pre-existing changes in the sesamoids prior to the occurrence of fractures during ordinary racing and training. Diagnosis of these changes, of course, could lead to altered training regimens and avoid the fracture rather than attempt to deal with the injury after the fact. In addition to microradiagraphy techniques to diagnose bone microdamage prior to fracture, this study will also examine potential risk factors for sesamoid injury such as training schedules, shoe traction devices and hoof shape.

Tetracyclines as Therapeutics for Equine Arthritis

Dr. Lisa Fortier, Cornell University

One year: $64,728

Current medications used for the common problem of arthritis are in two categories: Those that alleviate pain and those meant to preserve joint cartilage. This project seeks development of oral treatment to halt the progression of equine arthritis. Specifically, the efficacy of two chemicals, doxycycline and tetracycline-8, will be tested. These chemicals work by inhibiting the enzymes which are responsible for cartilage degradation and do not simply alleviate pain. The implication to be tested is that inhibiting those enzymes will maintain cartilage integrity and therefore preserve a healthy joint.

A New Method for Curing Recurrent Airway Obstruction (Heaves)

Dr. Dorothee Bienzle, University of Guelph

First year: $26,000 US

Recurrent Airway Obstruction is a centuries-old problem for stabled horses of all breeds and uses. A protein called CC10 is produced by specialized cells of the lung--known as Clara cells. In the human, these cells are known to be a major regulator of lung inflammation. In the horse, it is recognized that Clara cells are obliterated in horses with "heaves," but not much else is known. This proposal is designed to determine whether the administration of the protein CC10 can have a therapeutic effect. Data from other species indicate that reduced CC10 is a typical aspect of inflammatory lung disease, adding credence to the hypothesis of this project.

Are Mares a Source of Rhodococcus equi in Their Foals?

Dr. Noah Cohen, Texas A & M University

First year: $43,047

A renowned researcher based at Texas A & M, Dr. Cohen will conduct this project in association with Dr. Nathan Slovis of Hagyard-Davidson-McGee, Dr. George Mundy of Hill 'n Dale Farm, and others. The research will address the organism responsible for foal pneumonia, a common and often fatal disease for which there is no effective vaccine. Treatment to date involves administration of R. equi hyperimmune plasma, which is given after the disease is contracted but is not universally effective and, moreover, is expensive and labor intensive. This project will test whether some mares shed more R. equi in feces than others and thus indicate their foals are at increased risk. If that is the case, incidence of the disease might be reduced by identifying heavy shedders and administering the hyperimmune plasma to their foals in advance, as a preventive rather than a response to the foal being sick. [It will be noted that the most highly rated project also addressed foal pneumonia. These are separate, but compatible approaches. Successful development of a vaccine would improve on the method of hyperimmune plasma, but identification of foals under abnormally high risk of pneumonia would remain a useful step.]

Production of Antibodies for Various Diseases

Dr. David Horohov, University of Kentucky

First year: $36,800

This is an unusual project in that it seeks to produce reagents which would be made available to other researchers for work involving numerous diseases. The program is in response to widely recognized knowledge that small hormone-like proteins called cytokines play a roll in immunity. There is a lack of reagents available to produce them. As one of the reviewers put it: "Despite years of hand-wringing, no investigator has stepped up to the challenge and successfully produced these reagents." The committee felt strongly that Dr. Horohov is "highly likely" to be successful in producing these reagents, which would become a necessary tool to make fuller use of available knowledge.

Working Toward a Vaccine for Strangles

Dr. John Timoney, University of Kentucky

One year: $42,450

This recognized leader in research into strangles (caused by Streptococcus equi) has recently discovered four proteins of the organism which react strongly with serum antibodies of horses following recovery from the condition. Horses which have recently recovered from strangles are usually resistant to re-infection, and those four proteins seem likely to be involved in that resistance. This new project will produce enough of the proteins to test their efficacy as components of a vaccination regimen.

Enhancing Fertility via Recombinant Equine Gonadotropins

Dr. Janet Roser, University of California-Davis, and Dr. Irving Boime, Washington University School of Medicine

One year: $51,258

This project is an example of one aspect of the work of the Research Advisory Committee. The project had been submitted twice before and the principal investigator has responded successfully to concerns expressed by the committee and has now developed a project which earned a very high score (approval rating). The long-term goal of the research is to provide a source of two reproductive hormones that can enhance fertility in both the mare and the stallion. The two hormones are follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Production of Recombinant equine LH and FSH would be very useful, the researchers explain, in addressing several conditions, including spring transition and tumors after surgey, with the potential also to be effective in cases of cryptorchids, idiopathic subfertility in stallions, and Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome.

Combatting Endotoxins

Dr. Thomas Murray, University of Georgia

First year: $36,670

Many of the bad effects of bacteria result from an overzealous response of a horse's white blood cells to toxic parts of the bacteria. The most potent of the toxins, called endotoxins, are normally restricted to the inside of the intestines, but during many of the conditions that cause colic the endotoxin gains access to the horse's bloodstream. Also, endotoxin in the bloodstream characterizes sick newborns that fail to absorb protective antibodies from the dam's colostrum. One of the results in the chain of events of endotoxin in the bloodstream is production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF). The deleterious effects of TNF are known, but efforts to combat them as well as endotoxins themselves have encountered difficulties. This project will utilize a naturally produced constituent of cells called adenosine, which in other species has been shown to react to prevent the inflammatory responses to endotoxin and TNF. If proven to be effective, this form of treatment could improve the survival rate and reduce incidence of complication in both adult and young horses with conditions involving endotoxins in the bloodstream.

Continuing Projects

Specific Immune Functions Involved in Protecting Against Herpesvirus-1

Dr. Paul Lunn, Colorado State University


This is another logical step forward in creating a truly protective vaccine against this important equine disease complex. Herpesvirus is responsible for severe respiratory problems, abortion, and some neurological disorders.

Vaccine Development for Rhodococcal Pneumonia

Dr. Diana Stone, Washington State University


Progress in designing an effective vaccine against this very damaging disease has been slow. As a result, this disease continues to be a major, life-threatening problem in foals. The mechanisms of immunity are extremely complex. This is another of the groups working on this subject and which has made strides, and now propose a sophisticated DNA vaccine approach.

Effects of Early Exercise on Bones and Joints

Dr. Chris Kawcak, Colorado State University


This is a portion of a collaborative effort to assess the effects of exercising young foals as a means of strengthening bones, muscles, and joints to reduce future injuries and breakdowns. The international cooperative was described in our newsletter of August 2000. Preliminary work has shown that the exercise, beginning at 10 days of age and continuing through six months, does not cause any problems to the foals. This study evaluates the changes in the tissues as a result of the program and compares them to foals reared in usual fashion. The overall project involves an orthopedic research group from the USA, United Kingdom, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Total funds committed are in excess of $500,000.

Variations in EPM, and How They Relate to the Causative Organism

Dr. Linda Mansfield, Michigan State University


A big puzzle related to Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis is the variations in how the disease is expressed in horses. The parasite that causes the disease apparently is comprised of several different strains, some of which produce different clinical pictures, or perhaps just antibodies in the blood without disease. This project seeks to define the differences in the organism to help understand these variations, and eventually lead to a multi-strain vaccine against this debilitating and often fatal disease.

Hoof Growth and Development: New Revelations

Dr. Robert Bowker, Michigan State University


This diligent scientist (previously funded by GJCRF) has preliminary evidence that the hoof wall grows primarily from the underlying tissue (the epidermal laminae) and only secondarily from the coronary band. Also that the sole originates from the bars of the foot, and moves forward to surround the point of the frog. This study seeks to confirm these findings. Better understanding of these processes will greatly improve the outcome of horses afflicted.

Laminitis: Changes in the Small Arteries of the Foot

Dr. Stephen Lewis, University of Georgia


Work under way at the University of Georgia (funded by GJCRF) has led to the concept of inflammation in these small arteries being the first change to take place in the onset of laminitis. Early detection of laminitis would be a major step in combatting the malady. This study will focus on the biochemical changes involved, and the development of therapeutic strategies to reverse the inflammation.

Managing Damage to Joint Cartilage Resulting from Exercise

Dr. Michael Orth, Michigan State University


This is an in-depth scientific evaluation of two common anti-arthritic medications in horses. The study will determine optimum doses, and methods of treatment for glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Recent work has shown that these compounds assist in repairing joint cartilage, but the mechanisms and details of their actions need to be defined.

Respiratory Immune Responses of Foals

Dr. David Horohov, University of Kentucky


It is known that maternal antibodies play an important role in providing protection until the foal's own immune system becomes effective, but little is understood about how this maturing of the foal's immune system takes place. The goal of this project is to better characterize the immunity status of the foal's respiratory system.

The Role of Neurokinin-A in Equine Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Dr. Changararm S. Venugopal, Louisiana State University


This study seeks to identify the role of two proteins in Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (Heaves) of horses. These proteins have a major effect in the human version of the disease, and are suspected of a role in the equine based on preliminary

Contact: Edward L. Bowen
(859) 224-2714