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WCVM equine researchers receive $410,000

Horse at Spruce MeadowsThe Heather Ryan and L. David Dubé Veterinary Health and Research Fund has awarded $410,000 for three cutting-edge research investigations of equine endotoxemia, neonatal Rhodococcus equi pneumonia and genetic ocular disorders at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

“All three research projects will be conducted by multi-disciplinary teams of scientists from WCVM, the University of Saskatchewan and other research institutions across North America,” says Dr. Norman Rawlings, the veterinary college’s associate dean of research.

“Each collaborative team brings a great deal of clinical and laboratory expertise to the table, and we’re very excited about their potential for making real, concrete progress in overcoming these longstanding issues in horse health.”

These are the first research projects to receive financial support from the new research fund that was created in August 2006 when the Heather Ryan and L. David Dubé Foundation contributed $1.07 million to WCVM’s equine and companion animal health programs.

Based on the donors’ wishes, the college will use $750,000 of the contribution toward large-scale, WCVM-based equine research projects over the next five years.

Rawlings says all submitted grants underwent a stringent review process that was conducted by three prominent Canadian veterinary scientists. The grant review committee specifically considered the scientific merit of each grant proposal, the collective expertise of each research team and the potential impact for each project to improve horse health care in Canada and around the world.

• Equine endotoxemia: A research team will receive $60,000 per year for the next three years to investigate the use of novel nanomedicines to treat endotoxemia, a complicating factor in many equine diseases and a major cause of death in horses.

The principal investigator is Dr. Baljit Singh, a professor in WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences and a leading researcher in the biology of inflammation and the role of pulmonary intravascular macrophages (PIMs) in endotoxemia. Singh and his team members plan to use new, molecular-based medicines to target and destroy PIMs — critical promoters of endotoxin-induced tissue damage.

• Rhodococcus equi pneumonia in foals: Scientists will receive $50,000 per year for the next three years to gain a better understanding of foals’ immune response and susceptibility to this infectious disease.

Team leader Dr. Hugh Townsend is a professor in WCVM’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and program manager of the Vaccine Development Group at the Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO). The team’s work will enhance the understanding of foals’ innate and adaptive immune responses, and the disease process of R. equi pneumonia. The ultimate goal is to develop new vaccine strategies for young foals.

• Genetic ocular disorders: A research team will receive $40,000 per year for the next two years to identify the genetic mutations that induce congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB) in the Appaloosa breed and anterior segment dysgenesis (ASD) in the Rocky Mountain horse breed.

Dr. Bruce Grahn, a professor of veterinary ophthalmology in WCVM’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, leads the diverse research team that includes specialists in ophthalmology, ocular biochemistry, molecular genetics and phenotype research. The team’s investigations will identify the mutations responsible for the ocular conditions, inheritance patterns, the links to coat colour, and the pathogenesis of each disorder.

In addition to their initial $1.07-million gift, Ryan and Dubé have pledged to “match” any new money contributed to the fund that they created for major equine research projects at WCVM or any increased amounts in contributions to the college’s Equine Health Research Fund.

The donors’ foundation will annually contribute up to $100,000 in matching funds — providing WCVM with the opportunity to potentially raise $1 million for its equine health research programs by 2011.

WCVM is a Canadian centre for veterinary education, expertise and research that’s located on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon, Sask.

Nearly 400 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled at the college that annually attracts more than $5 million in research funding from public and private sources.

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