A blood test for breakdown risk?

Someday it may be possible to identify those racehorses at highest risk for catastrophic breakdown with a simple blood test.

Testing blood for the expression of select mRNA molecules may help identify horses at risk of breakdown. (Adobe Stock)

To determine whether the expression of select mRNA molecules in genetic markers related to inflammation and bone and tissue repair may signal an increased likelihood of injury, researchers at the University of Kentucky’s Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center analyzed 686 blood samples taken from horses competing at racetracks in five states.

Of those, 107 samples came from horses within a half-hour of sustaining a catastrophic fracture injury during a race. The remainder of the samples were taken from horses either before or immediately after they competed in races without mishap.

Comparing samples from injured and uninjured horses, the researchers identified significant differences in expression activity among three markers. In the horses that broke down, two of those markers showed increased activity possibly attributable to underlying bone damage, and one showed decreased activity related to anti-inflammatory actions. 

What the findings mean

These findings are an important step in the development of a blood  test that could identify horses most at risk for a catastrophic racing breakdown, say the researchers.

They conclude that “analysis of mRNA expression of specific genes in the future may be considered as an economical, accessible and noninvasive means by which horses at risk for catastrophic injury can be identified.”

Reference: “Expression of select mRNA in Thoroughbreds with catastrophic racing injuries,” Equine Veterinary Journal, January 2021 

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