Quest Continues For A Blood Test To Identify Horses At Risk For Injury

A multi-part study by the University of Kentucky to help identify at-risk horses before racing will soon move into its third phase. Gluck Equine Research Center’s Dr. Allen Page provided an update on the ongoing research to the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council last week.

The EDRC was key in funding the first two phases of the study, which has yielded promising results. In the first phase, Page and fellow researcher Dr. David Horohov took blood samples from horses suffering fatal injuries in races and compared them with blood samples from competitors in the same races who did not suffer injuries. The researchers looked for messenger RNA (mRNA) markers that were present in the injured horses but not the uninjured ones. Messenger RNA is responsible for carrying instructions from genes leading to the production of proteins. The number of these instructions, or gene copies, change if the body is increasing or decreasing inflammation somewhere.

Initially, the research identified 21 markers and determined that three of them were present in 88 percent of horses suffering injuries. The tests developed by the research had a 76 percent sensitivity rate, meaning they could practically identify an at-risk horse 76 percent of the time. Page said he wants to get that sensitivity rate higher, as it’s important to minimize false positives that would keep healthy horses out of races.

The study’s second phase is in progress now and will sequence RNA from the phase one samples, which will help researchers look at a total of 22,000 markers. So far, about 150 markers are promising enough to merit additional research to see if they could be combined with the results from the first phase findings for more accurate and sensitive testing.

Page is now preparing to launch the third phase of the study. In this phase, researchers want to take pre-race blood samples (rather than post-race samples) to validate that the markers could be used effectively as predictors in a practical application. The team will collect blood samples taken at the time of furosemide administration or pre-race TCO2 testing and bank those samples. If a horse is fatally injured in a race, the team will go back and analyze that pre-race sample to see whether it showed the same indicators they’ve seen in post-race analysis.

In this phase, the relative infrequency of fatal racing breakdowns means the team will have to cast their net wide.

“Obviously, the rate of catastrophic injury is quite low,” said Page. “So if we want to look at pre-race samples, it requires a large number of samples be collected.”

Page projects the team will need to collect 10,000 blood samples, expecting that will result in about 12 or 13 samples related to fatal orthopedic breakdowns (sudden deaths or accidental deaths will not be included). Those samples will then be stored for future research, so the process will not have to be repeated or funded again for subsequent projects.

“We’re really happy and encouraged by the results we’ve got so far and fully anticipate that by using these pre-race samples, we’ll be able to validate what we’ve done and potentially come up with a commercially viable and useful test that we can use in the racing industry to help further decrease the catastrophic injury rates,” said Page.

The sample collection for the project’s third phase will take about a year to complete.

The post Quest Continues For A Blood Test To Identify Horses At Risk For Injury appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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