A Royal Veterinary College researcher is being awarded a grant to study the genetic risk of fracture among Thoroughbred horses.

The London, England-based Alborada Trust, which provides funding for medical and veterinary causes, is providing £300,000 — or nearly $415,000 — to Dr. Debbie Guest, a senior research fellow at the RVC, for the study. Guest believes that “the research will provide a greater understanding of how best to identify and manage horses at high risk of fractures and contribute to greater health and welfare of Thoroughbreds.”

“I am delighted to have received funding from the Alborada Trust for this project,” she says. “Bone fractures are a common problem in racing Thoroughbreds and this work has the potential to make a significant improvement to Thoroughbred health and welfare.”

Guest and the RVC research team used genome-wide information to derive types of stem cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from horses at high and low genetic risk of fracture. The iPSCs can be turned into the cells that make bone or osteoblasts. The method allows researchers to study bone from horses in the absence of any environmental variability, which provides the ability to study the genetic factors involved in fracture risk in Thoroughbreds.

Diagnostic imaging techniques can monitor horses for pre-fracture changes; however, the high cost  does not allow for wide use. Guest believes this research could help identify genetically high-risk horses and enable a more targeted — and therefore less expensive — use of these methods.

In addition, identifying the mechanisms that underpin genetic risk in horses will pave the way for  therapies and interventions to decrease their risk of catastrophic fracture, Guest says. Identifying horses at high genetic risk would also allow breeders to make informed breeding decisions.

“We are pleased that the Trustees have agreed to support Dr. Debbie Guest with this interesting and important research project, and we look forward to following its progress,” according to a statement from Professor Sidney Ricketts and David Ellis, joint veterinary advisors to the Alborada Trust.

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