Professor William "Twink" Allen of the Equine Fertility Unit of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association (TBA) in Newmarket, England is a man whose time has come. While one would expect him to be revelling in the high-tech age of horse science at the height of his stellar career as a researcher, Professor Allen may be soon sending out his resume as he goes looking for a new job.
The BBC is reporting that the famed reproduction research unit in the British horseracing and breeding capital of Newmarket will close due to a shortfall in funding by the Thoroughbred Breeders Association. The TBA says that they will not fund the research center to the amount needed to keep it open as an arm of the new University of Nottingham veterinary college in England.
As reported previously in this blog, Professor Allen's ground-breaking research accomplishments have not been as celebrated at home in England as they have been in other parts of the world. The British government even banned horse cloning, a process that owes much of its success elsewhere to Allen's research at the Newmarket farm. Allen has pioneered new techniques in in vitro fertilization (IVF) for horses and also is a proponent of genetic modification to produce superior eventing and jumping horses.
One of the Unit's most publicized projects was a consulting project for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, who breeds not only some of the world's fastest Thoroughbred racehorses but also the fastest racing camels. Sheikh Mohammed fretted that his fastest female camels were out of the races for a good part of their 13-month pregnancies. As it turned out, no scientific research had ever been done on camels, so the EFU was brought in to start some. Professor Allen applied embryo transfer technology from the horse world to the race camel world. Dubai is now home to the Camel Reproduction Centre, under a plan set up by Professor Allen. Coincidentally, the camels lost their child jockeys, who were replaced with robots.
Animal research and the ethics of reproduction are much more politicized in Britain than in the USA and other countries. The British animal advocacy group "Animal Aid" has given Professor Allen its "Mad Scientist" Award, and the Unit has been under constant criticism by animal research foes.
In an article in today's newspaper The Guardian (UK), news of Animal Aid's latest report on the Equine Fertility Unit is published. "A Dead Cert" charges that the EFU and the prestigious Animal Health Trust, also in Newmarket, have caused unnecessary suffering to horses in the name of science. It is not known if the Animal Aid report was timed to coincide with the TBA announcement, or vice versa, or if this is a strange coincidence.
Animal Aid is the organization that recently pulled off a publicity stunt on a national news program in England that implied that horsemeat was barbecued and served to racegoers at Cheltenham Racecourse, site of the accidental deaths of 11 National Hunt horses during the 2006 racemeet.
Professor Allen vows that he will euthanize the Unit's band of mares, who were bred and raised on the farm and have never been separated or moved from the setting.
Watch the BBC video news report here and check out the Guardian article, as well. It was only last week that this blog reported on the highest rate of success ever at the Badminton Horse Trials by mares, most of whom headed straight from the Cotswolds to centers like the EFU for immediate breeding and subsequent embryo transfer. Thoroughbred breeding in the UK, as in the USA and other countries, still requires live breeding and embryo transfer technology is not allowed.