Horse breath testing to benefit racing

November 06, 2001

TWO new studies into horses' health could be of major importance to the economic health of the racing industry. The studies, at Adelaide University in Australia, include breath testing of horses and a new technique to help horses recover from serious tendon injury.

BREATH TESTING

Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD) is a lower respiratory tract disease that causes problems in the horse racing industry. Studies have found that anything up to 50% of thoroughbred and standardbred racehorses in training suffer from the disease. However, the lack of overt symptoms that accompany it, other than a general poor performance on the track, means the disease often goes unnoticed.

Current diagnostic techniques are invasive, time-consuming and limited in their ability to detect lower airway disease. But a new "breath testing" technique could change all that.

Honours student Belinda Argent, under the supervision of Dr David Tivey (Department of Animal Science, Roseworthy Campus), has conducted trials of new testing procedures for IAD in horses, the results of which are eagerly awaited by veterinarians and trainers alike.

Ms Argent's study postulates that particular components of the breath expired by horses could be used as a direct marker of inflammatory disease occurring in the lungs.

"If this is proven to be the case," Ms Argent, says "it's expected that the test will not only be more sensitive diagnostically in the early stages of the disease, but also more readily accepted and utilised by trainers which will, in turn, hopefully be more effective in reducing the degree of damage caused by IAD in the horse racing industry."

The "breath test" method is stress-free for the animal and easily administered, using a simple bagging technique to trap breath and extract samples with a syringe for laboratory testing.

Trials have been conducted at Sydney's metropolitan racetracks and on racehorses stabled at Adelaide University's Horse Unit on the Roseworthy Campus, in conjunction with Sydney University veterinarians.

"Respiratory disease is second only to musculoskeletal disease as a cause of serious economic loss to the racing industry through reduced performance, lost training days and premature retirement from the racetrack," Ms Argent says.

"A technique that is easily used, inexpensive and non-invasive could have an enormous impact, improving health and leading to a major reduction in lost performance."

TENDON REPAIR

Meanwhile, in another research project, a patent is pending for a new biotechnology technique that can help improve recovery of serious tendon injury in performance horses.

Dick Francis once wrote that the equine tendon is as sensitive as a violin string. Tendon injuries in horses are notoriously slow to recover and difficult to treat.

Research conducted by Adelaide University's Dr Robyn Woodward, Program Leader in Equine Studies, and Dr Simon Humphrys, a research scientist at South Australian biotechnology company PrimeGRO, is using Insulin Growth Factor I (IGF-I).

The new method involves the injection of IGF-I twice, commencing a week after the initial injury is sustained. The product is injected into the core lesion, its position determined by diagnostic ultrasound.

The studies have shown that tendons treated with IGF-I have a significantly higher percentage of collagen-I fibres, the strongest collagen fibres in the tendon, over the control group. Dr Woodward says this means a shorter recovery time and potential to improve overall recovery.

"The use of IGF-I has been shown to improve the quality of repair," she says.

"Provided that appropriate conditioning principles are followed, the product allows horses that have shown athletic promise before they incurred the injury to return to racing."
-end-
MEDIA CONTACTS:

BREATH TESTING Dr David Tivey: +618 8303 7855 work david.tivey@adelaide.edu.au

TENDON REPAIR Dr Robyn Woodward: +618 8303 7921 work robyn.woodward@adelaide.edu.au

Dr Simon Humphrys: +618 8354 7767 work

MEDIA PHOTOS:

http://www.adelaide.edu.au/pr/media/photos/2001/

University of Adelaide

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