KENNETT SQUARE, Pa.--The Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association provided $300,000 to fund research to detect gene doping in race horses that has now been expanded to include new and exiting genetic testing.
The funding, one of the highest of any state-bred association for research, was provided to maintain integrity in the sport, which was the number one issue for the PHBA membership.
Dr. Mary Robinson, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Pharmacology, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, described this new research at the annual meeting of the PHBA at the Kennett Square Golf Club on May 24.
Earlier this year, the PHBA asked its members to allow blood to be withdrawn from their horses.
The PHBA hoped to get 500 blood samples, and, as of May 24, Dr.Robinson reported they have received 490 samples.
"We've been working with Dr. Emmaline Hill, an equine geneticist who runs a gamut of tests," said Dr. Robinson."This is new and exciting research that is taking off."
Dr Emmeline Hill is an Irish horse geneticist who is credited with discovering a gene for speed in horses.
"There's a speed gene that shows the possibility of a horse getting to the racetrack, that shows the optimal distance a horse should run and how long the horse may be able to compete," said Dr. Robinson.
This research is using the 490 samples from a bio blood bank, and new research is also looking to genes that might be involved in fractures.
Of course, none of this research does any good unless horses are fed and cared for properly from their birth and their trainers are careful to care for them properly.
Dr. Robinson said that they hoped that within a year they would have a blood lest that identified markers that could be used stall side, making it available for use at 2-year-old in training sales.
DR. ROBINSON also described the results of using an equine PET scanner at Santa Anita.
An Equine PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Scan is a nuclear medicine imaging technique, similar to scintigraphy, which is more commonly known as “bone scan”.
Both scintigraphic and PET scans detect “hot spots” that indicate—although a conventional X-ray might not show anything abnormal in a bone—there are microscopic changes that may develop into more severe injuries.
Fractures in horses are often fatal, so diagnosing and preventing these injuries are essential.
Initially, this type of imaging required horses to undergo general anesthesia, but today, the procedure can be done with simple sedation.
A small dose of a radioactive agent is injected about 30 minutes prior to imaging.
This agent distributes through the body and accumulates in regions with increased bone turnover.
Once the horse is sedated, the procedure takes between three to five minutes to image each site, so in less than 30 minutes, both front feet and both front fetlocks can be imaged.
"A PET scan can show an injury on a horse that is totally sound and finishing at the top of his races," said Dr. Robinson. "If it's an ongoing injury, the PET scan just lights up."
A healing plan can be decided upon, where perhaps a month or so or turn-out can heal the injury, so that a month can prevent a serious injury that would mean a year off or even a fatality.
A follow up scan can see if the injury has healed.
"The PET scanner was first used at Santa Anita," said Dr. Robinson. "The Stronach group put up the money to do the research. It markedly reduced fatalities at Santa Anita."