Summaries: WCVM major equine research projects
The Heather Ryan and L. David Dubé Veterinary Health and Research Fund has awarded $410,000 for three cutting-edge research investigations of equine endotoxemia, neonatal Rhodococcus equi pneumonia and genetic ocular disorders at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).
All submitted grants underwent a stringent review process that was conducted by three prominent Canadian veterinary scientists. The grant review committee specifically considered the scientific merit of each grant proposal, the collective expertise of each research team and the potential impact for each project to improve horse health care in Canada and around the world.
PROJECT 1: Novel nanomedicines to treat equine endotoxemia
Endotoxemia is a life-threatening condition that’s associated with many equine diseases including colic in adult horses and septicemia in foals. The condition occurs when endotoxins (a toxin that forms part of the cell wall of certain bacteria) are released into a horse’s circulatory system. In response, the host’s body launches an excessive immune response that results in critical tissue damage.
Based on past studies, the research team believes that pulmonary intravascular macrophages (PIMs) play a key role in the development of endotoxemia. During the next three years, researchers will use a new class of organic nanotubes called “rosette nanotubes” to destroy PIMs and curtail the host’s immune response to the endotoxins. This new therapeutic approach to endotoxemia will target cells that produce multiple mediators of inflammation versus targeting one mediator at a time — an exciting difference from previous treatments.
• Dr. Baljit Singh is a professor in WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences and a recognized research leader in the mechanisms of lung inflammation.
• Dr. Hicham Fenniri is a chemistry professor at the University of Alberta and leader of the Supramolecular Nanoscale Assembly Group at the National Institute for Nanotechnology.
• Dr. Hugh Townsend is a professor in WCVM’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and program manager of the Vaccine Development Group at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO).
• Dr. Sarbjeet Suri, a postdoctoral fellow in WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, has specialized training in cell signalling pathways and protein trafficking. He has been involved in Singh’s lung inflammation-related research for several years.
PROJECT 2: Investigation of the foal’s immune response and susceptibility to Rhodococcus equi pneumonia.
Pneumonia, caused by the soil-borne bacterium Rhodococcus equi, is a major cause of death in neonatal foals and a critical issue that affects all sectors of the international horse industry. While the immune systems of older horses can overcome this infectious disease, young foals seem to have an age-associated susceptibility to R. equi and other infectious agents.
During the next three years, the research team will use a challenge model of R. equi foal pneumonia to further understand the development of the foal’s innate and adaptive immune response, and to learn more about the disease process of R. equi pneumonia. Researchers will also undertake a preliminary assessment of genetic factors that may be relevant to the immune competence of foals. Ultimately, the team will examine novel approaches to enhancing a foal’s protective immune response and new strategies for vaccinating young foals.
• Dr. Hugh Townsend is a professor in WCVM’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and program manager of the Vaccine Development Group at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO). Townsend has internationally known for his expertise in vaccine efficacy and vaccinology.
• Dr. Volker Gerdts is a veterinary immunologist and program manager of the Neonatal Immunization Group at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO).
• Dr. Katharina Lohmann is an associate professor in WCVM’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences whose research and clinical interests focus on foal diseases.
• Dr. Marianela Lopez is an immunologist and post-doctoral fellow at VIDO. Lopez is also internationally recognized for her R. equi research work.
• Dr. Fernando Marqués is an associate professor in WCVM’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences who has a particular interest in foal diseases.
• Dr. George Mutwiri is a veterinary immunologist and program manager of the Vaccine Delivery and Formulation Group at VIDO.
• Dr. Baljit Singh is a professor in WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences who has a long-standing interest in equine macrophage function.
PROJECT 3: Identification of the mutations that induce two equine ocular disorders
This research team will identify the mutations that induce congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB) in the Appaloosa breed and anterior segment dysgenesis (ASD) in the Rocky Mountain horse breed. Based on WCVM research, it’s estimated that approximately 25 per cent of Appaloosa horses in Western Canada have CSNB — a disease that causes night blindness, shying during dim light conditions and other subtle behavioural characteristics. Although vision in ASD-affected Rocky Mountain horses is usually normal, retinal detachment and blindness related to ruptured cysts are problems detected in the most severely affected horses. The appearance of these inherited diseases, which are often overlooked by owners and veterinarians, may also be related to coat colour.
During the next two years, the research team will identify the linked markers and mutations responsible for CSNB in Appaloosa horses and ASD in Rocky Mountain horses. Researchers will also identify the inheritance patterns, confirm whether there is a link to coat colour and describe the pathogenesis of each disease. Once scientists have identified the mutation responsible for CSNB, future studies may focus on gene therapy — a first in the horse industry.
• Dr. Bruce Grahn is a professor in WCVM’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist who has research expertise in equine ophthalmic diseases and inherited ocular diseases.
• Dr. Lynne Sandmeyer is an associate professor in WCVM’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Sandmeyer has been investigating CSNB in the Appaloosa breed for the past two years.
• Dr. George Forsyth is a professor in WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences who has expertise in ocular biochemistry and molecular genetics.
• Sheila Archer is a phenotype researcher and project co-ordinator for the Appaloosa Project, a North American research initiative designed to investigate the nature of Appaloosa genetics.
• Dr. Rebecca Bellone is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Tampa who specializes in animal genetics. Bellone is also part of the Appaloosa Project.