Blood Tests May Provide Early Indicators of Catastrophic Injury Say Colorado State Equine Researchers

Bone fractures, joint injury and other musculoskeletal trauma are major problems in the equine industry. In response, a grant of $59,700 will help two Colorado State University equine researchers continue their studies into diagnosing, monitoring and potentially preventing these problems.

Dr. David Frisbie and Dr. Clark Billinghurst of the Equine Orthopaedic Research Laboratory have been studying a method of early detection of musculoskeletal injury by monitoring serum markers in equine blood samples. Early studies conducted at the lab were successful enough that the prestigious Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation grant was awarded to continue this research.

Dr. Frisbie has reported in previous studies on a small population of horses that he has been able to accurately predict (79 percent of the time) the presence of a chip fracture in the knee, based solely on a blood sample.

"The hope of this study is to identify levels of serum markers that may be associated with an increased risk of bone and/or cartilage injury," said Billinghurst. "This early diagnosis will allow therapeutic intervention prior to a real problem, thereby saving the horse from a career- or life-ending injury."

Billinghurst and Frisbie will collect monthly blood samples from 200 2- and 3- year-old Thoroughbred race horses in training in California throughout the 2001 racing season. The attending veterinarians collecting the samples also will record any indications of musculoskeletal injuries and the date of occurrence within the test season. Billinghurst and Frisbie will assess the levels of bone and cartilage markers to help predict the onset of structural and functional changes that ultimately leads to musculoskeletal injury.

Bone fractures and osteochondral lesions are significant causes of fatalities at racetracks around the world. In one study, 83 percent of fatalities at California racetracks during a 2-year period were linked to musculoskeletal injury. Although some diseases of the bone and cartilage can be diagnosed using routine clinical methods, equine practitioners have been limited in their ability to diagnose such problems until after considerable injury has occurred.

The Grayson-Foundation was established in 1940 to raise support for the promotion and funding of equine veterinary research. In 1989, resources were combined with the Jockey Club Research Foundation. Since then, the foundation has distributed more than $6 million in projects aimed at enhancing the health and safety of horses.