Screening for biomarkers & indicators of intestinal health among equine microbiota

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No one will argue that prevention is better than cure and early intervention is certainly preferable to watching an equine partner go from not feeling 100% to being completely sidelined.  Ontario Veterinary College researcher, Dr. Luis Arroyo is embarking on a very interesting collaborative study that may result in the ability to detect the first signs of gastro-intestinal disease, allowing for better management and faster treatment of GI issues.  Intestinal diseases are the leading cause of death in horses.  Developing PCR testing to screen for biomarkers could be a game changer that could potentially provide speedy, economical early diagnostics and early treatment.

Together with research partner Dr. Marcio Costa from the University Of Montreal, the researchers will be looking for biomarkers that indicate changes in the inhabitants of the equine gut that take place during the early onset of illness.

“A biomarker is a biological molecule that you can find in different places,” explains Arroyo.  “For example, you might find them in tissue, blood, urine, or different body fluids.  They can signal normal or abnormal processes or could reveal a marker of a disease.  For example, a biomarker can be used to see how well the body might respond to a treatment or to a disease condition.”

Changes in the intestinal microbiota (dysbiosis) are present before and during the outset of diseases and after treatment with antibiotics.  Bacterial biomarkers are currently being used in other species to accurately predict intestinal dysbiosis. Arroyo cites the example of decreased Lachnospiraceae commonly being observed when there is intestinal inflammation.

The researchers will be delving into a huge bio-bank of samples to identify potential markers of intestinal dysbiosis in horses utilizing PCR testing as a faster and more economical alternative to the complex DNA sequencing technologies that have been used to characterize changes in microbiota thus far.  The goal is to develop simple and reliable testing that veterinarians can take right to the barn that will result in early treatment and allow closer monitoring of horses at the first onset of GI disease.

Equine Guelph supports a number of high-quality projects at the University of Guelph, by virtue of funding provided largely by the racing industry (Standardbred, Thoroughbred and Quarter horse organizations): the Horse Improvement Program from the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the E.P. Taylor Foundation, started by veterinarians in the Thoroughbred industry, and now maintained in trust by the University and Equine Guelph.