Category Archives: Zweig News Capsule

Stories published in the Zweig News Capsule, issued semi-annually to report news about research projects and other timely information related to The Harry M. Zweig Memorial Fund for Equine Research and its activities.

This fund was established in 1979 by the New York State Legislature to promote equine health with regard to the racing industry. It is administered at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine by an advisory committee composed of representatives from State agencies and the equine industry.

Archives:
http://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/22528

Ticks untold

Prime suspects in mystery fevers may hold new tick-borne diseases
Suddenly your horse is sick and you don’t know why. She breathes normally but her temperature is rising, her eyes grow yellow with jaundice, she seems depressed, and barely eats. The fever is clear but the cause is not; even the most experienced experts can offer no concrete answers. Eventually the fever fades, but is that the end of whatever caused it or is the source still lurking somewhere inside?

Horse owners across the states are facing this distressing scenario. At the Cornell University Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC), Dr. Linda Mittel fields a growing number of calls about these mysterious fevers of unknown origins (FUOs). Many come from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Great Lakes areas: the nation’s topmost hotbeds of human tick-borne disease. This pattern led Mittel to suspect that the culprits of the fever caper could be ticks and the difficult-to-diagnose diseases they carry.

“Tick-borne diseases are some of the fastest growing emerging diseases in the United States right now,” said Mittel. “As ticks continue expanding their numbers and geographic range these diseases may affect new areas. We get calls about fevers at broodmare operations, showbarns, and farms where race horses rest or layup, even in areas where they didn’t know they had ticks. But horses moving between states can move ticks with them, and the effects of this movement are starting to show.”

Mittel and colleagues at the AHDC are embarking on a project to find just what diseases ticks in hotbed zones are carrying and whether they are behind the wash of mystery fevers in horses. The study will use samples from horses suffering FUOs to look for bacterial infections known to be transmitted by ticks (Anaplasma, Babesia, Borrelia, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia) as well as other bacteria known to cause non-respiratory infection in horses (Leptospira, Bartonella, and Neorickettsia.)

These agents are considered emerging infectious diseases in humans, and this will be the first study determining their presence in horses with FUOs. The study will also sample ticks found on or near horses in designated areas to find which pathogens they carry and to potentially discover previously undocumented tick-borne pathogens.

Many tick-borne diseases are sensitive to specific drugs; others are not sensitive to antibiotics at all. Knowing which diseases are at the root of FUOs will help veterinarians treat them effectively. It will also help owners understand how the causes of fevers might impact affected horses’ futures in racing, performance, or showmanship.

“I’m quite excited to start solving the mysteries of these fevers and to possibly uncover new previously unrecognized diseases – in horses and people,” said Mittel. “If these agents are in the horses, humans may also have them without realizing– people who work with these horses might be particularly at risk. Knowing what we’re dealing with here will hopefully solve the mystery of FUOs and help equine and human medicine recognize and address the growing onslaught of tick-borne disease.”

This research is funded by the Harry M. Zweig Memorial Fund for Equine Research.

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Grayson Storm Cat Award to study stem cell therapy

Catherine Hackett, DVM, Ph.D., has been selected as the winner of the 2010 Storm Cat Career Development Award. The $15,000 award is presented to an early-stage scientist with an interest in a career in equine research.

Selected from numerous competitors, Hackett’s research will focus on equine stem cells in a project entitled “Temporal Analysis of Mesechymal Progenator Cells.” The research will be overseen by Dr. Lisa Fortier, a distinguished researcher, recipient of multiple Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation grants, and frequent recipient of Zweig funding.

“My project investigates characteristic cell surface traits of cell populations in bone marrow, particularly the cells that can form tissues such as cartilage, bone, and muscle,” said Hackett. “I look at the surface of different cell types to determine what type of mature cells they will become, such as blood or bone cells. I also study how these surface properties change over time in culture as the cells grow and respond to culture conditions.”

For patients waiting for stem cell therapy, it can take time (e.g. four to eight weeks) for cultured stem cells to divide enough times to reach clinically useful numbers. Hackett hopes to find ways to both decrease the time needed in culture before cells are ready to be implanted and to improve the ability of cells to form the correct tissue

“Stem cells from bone marrow have been used in horses to help heal injuries to tendons, cartilage, and joints, improving repair and changing the patient’s immune response to transplantation of cells or tissues from a different donor,” said Hackett. “The same applications are being investigated in humans to treat similar types of injuries as those seen in the horse. The properties of mesenchymal stem cells are still poorly understood, and we hope our research into their characteristics and behavior can help find ways to improve their clinical utility and function.”

The award is named for the Thoroughbred stallion Storm Cat, which stood at Overbrook Farm in Kentucky. Overbrook is owned by the family of Lucy Young Hamilton, a Foundation board of directors member who personally underwrites the Career Development Award.

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011

Pregnancy paper picked by bio elite

A paper on pregnancy immunology from the lab of Dr. Doug Antczak has been selected by the Faculty of 1000, placing his work in a library of the top two percent of published articles in biology and medicine.

According to its website, the Faculty of 1000 (F1000) identifies and evaluates the most important articles in biology and medical research publications. Articles are selected by a peer-nominated global faculty composed of the world’s leading scientists and clinicians who rate chosen articles and explain their importance.

Antczak’s paper, “Functions of ectopically transplanted invasive horse trophoblast,” (Reproduction 2011 Mar. 9), was selected and evaluated by F1000 member Anthony Michael Carter.

“This paper advances understanding of how invasive trophoblast cells are able to establish endometrial cups in the mare,” wrote Carter in an evaluation describing Antczak’s discovery. Trophoblast cells, which form around embryos, can migrate to the uterus. In pregnant mares, these invading cells form ulcer-like structures in the uterus that produce equine gonadotropin. This hormone serves several functions in pregnancy including protecting the embryo from the mother’s immune system.
“Our work may have practical application in equine practice, for example in the development of new methods to prevent unwanted estrus in competition mares,” said Antczak. “It also has implications for biomedical use in the future, as a way to provide sustained delivery of biologically active molecules or drugs.”

The project’s lead scientist, Dr. Amanda de Mestre, was formerly a post-doctoral fellow in the Antczak lab, and is now a faculty member at the Royal Veterinary College in London. De Mestre’s training included two distinct experiences at Cornell. While still a veterinary student in her native Australia, she spent a summer conducting research in the Antczak lab as a participant in Cornell’s Leadership Program.

F1000’s database provides both a repository for peer-rated high-impact biology articles and a social media forum for serious science. Its community features enable discussions to be built around the selected publications. Additional faculty members may evaluate and rate the article, and subscribers can post comments. Antczak will be able to join the conversation, providing follow-up notes concerning his article and responding to ideas put forth by commenters and evaluators.
“As a post-publication peer review service, we embrace the idea that the impact of your article can deepen and spread in unforeseen ways with community interaction,” wrote Sarah Greene, Editor in Chief of the F1000, in a letter to Antczak announcing his inclusion. “Even your own reckoning of the article may advance toward further conclusions and result in new strategies and collaborations.”

This research is part of a continuing program in equine pregnancy immunology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health that has been supported for many years by the Zweig Memorial Fund, the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011

Bloodstream battles

When bacteria bloom in the blood the ensuing battle can wreak havoc on the body. Endotoxemia, bacterial blood poisoning, ignites a rising tide of immune cells and blood platelets that help fight infection but can also cause tissue damage. In horses, endotoxemia and subsequent inflammation can cause severe complications following abdominal surgeries, in common equine disorders including colic and retained placenta, and in weak foals that fail to nurse properly.

Dr. Thomas Divers is leading a team of Cornell veterinarians investigating a new approach to treating the effects of endotoxemia by quelling the rampaging immune response. Collaborators Drs. Marjory Brooks, Susan Fubini, Ashlee Watts, Tracy Stokol, and Sally Ness aid in the investigation.

“Veterinary clinicians currently use a ‘best guess’ approach to managing horses with endotoxemia,” said Divers. “They typically administer a broad spectrum of treatments to clear bacteria and support cell repair, but specific attempts to block the inflammatory response have mostly failed.  We have developed a new strategy for treating endotoxin that targets blood platelets as a key control point.”

If successful, this novel approach will change the best-guess strategy into an evidence-based solution to suffering by using the anti-platelet drug clopidogrel (Plavix®), one of the most commonly used drugs in human medicine. The project will provide insights into the pathophysiology of endotoxemia and the ability of Plavix® to down-regulate platelet reactivity in endotoxic horses.
“Plavix® is a highly effective oral anti-platelet agent, and holds promise for helping treat inflamed horses,” said Divers. “We have optimized techniques to evaluate equine platelet reactivity, forming a testing panel broadly applicable for investigating thrombosis in horses, particularly in studying laminitis. We are now performing anti-platelet drug treatment trials for horses with endotoxemia. The trials are going well, and we are looking forward to publishing by the end of the year. When the patent on Plavix® expires in 2012, generic versions of the drug will become available, and we will be poised to start using anti-platelet drugs to affordably and effectively treat blood poisoning and inflammation in horses.”

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011

The ins and outs of immunity