The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Racehorse study to shed light on respiratory immunity

Cell analysis hoped to reveal biological pathways and indicators underlying airway inflammation in equine athletes.

Researchers are to investigate why racehorses are susceptible to respiratory illnesses during intense training.

The findings could inform ways to help alleviate inflammation in the airways, which commonly affect the animals, impacting on their performance.

A team from the Dick Vet and Roslin Institute will use a combination of analysis techniques to study immune cells from horses’ airways and lungs.

The study, funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Equine Welfare Research Foundation, will seek to identify biological indicators of disease and to better understand processes in the immune system that lead to illness.

Impact of training

The two-year study aims to build on previous research funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board, highlighting a link between exercise and changes in immunity, with the latest work focusing on immune cells that originate in horses’ airways.

Scientists hope to aid understanding of conditions affecting the airways including inflammation, known as mild to moderate equine asthma (MMEA), which can significantly impair athletic performance, especially during the early training period.

Their work is also hoped to shed light on bleeding into the airways, known as Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage (EIPH), which is also prevalent among training horses.

The team will seek to establish whether there is a link between the two conditions.

Researchers will use advanced analytical methods to pinpoint the effects of training on activity in immune cells, and the proteins produced by these cells, to search for biological indicators of susceptibility to disease and possible targets for treatments.

High intensity training has also been linked to respiratory symptoms in humans, with intense periods of exercise being linked to a loss of immune function, and outcomes from the study could also have significance for advancing understanding this phenomenon in human athletes.

Racehorses commonly develop airway inflammation, especially during early season training, which can significantly impair athletic performance. Previous studies have reported a detrimental effect of exercise on the functional capacity of airway-derived immune cells. We hope to establish the detail of this, to inform management and training of equine athletes, and advance understanding of similar conditions in humans.

Dr Anna Eleonora KaragianniResearch Fellow, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies 

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos. 

The School comprises: 

The Roslin Institute 

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security 

The Roslin Innovation Centre 

The Hospital for Small Animals 

Equine Veterinary Services 

Farm Animal Services 

Easter Bush Pathology 

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education 

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.

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