New research found 3 biomarkers to detect race horses at risk of catastrophic injury

A team from the University of Kentucky recently completed a 2.5-year project measuring messenger RNA (mRNA) and identified three markers veterinarians might be able to use to identify at-risk horses before they race.

The three promising mRNA markers for identifying horses at risk of catastrophic injury are:

  • Increased Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a growth hormone that plays a role in bone development and repair. “IGF-1 has previously been shown to decrease during early inflammation before increasing, suggesting that increased IGF-1 expression might indicate chronic inflammation, particularly in regard to bone and joint pathology,” said the researcher Allen Page, DVM, PhD, staff scientist and veterinarian at the university’s Gluck Equine Research Center, in Lexington.
  • Increased Matrix metalloproteinase-2 (MMP2), which plays an important role in tissue repair and fracture remodeling, also increased in horses with catastrophic injuries.
  • Decreased Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, a potent anti-inflammatory also known as IRAP, decreased in horses with catastrophic injuries, “again suggesting these horses had evidence of ongoing chronic inflammation,” Page said. “Those horses that had increased IRAP expression were seven times less likely to experience a catastrophic injury.”

“The mRNA expression of IGF-1, IRAP, and MMP2 may provide economical, effective, and noninvasive means of detecting horses at risk of catastrophic injury,” he concluded.

Future Applications
Page suggested veterinarians could use mRNA markers as a pre-race screening tool, collecting and testing blood samples three to five days before a race to identify horses that should be examined further with advanced imaging modalities. “We can run hundreds of samples per day and return those results within two to three days,” he said.


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