The scientific community wrapped up a two-day workshop at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center Aug. 28 with a thorough review of research into mare reproductive loss syndrome, and some ideas on how to proceed in 2003.
The workshop was based on the rationale that the causative agents of MRLS seem to be closely associated with the Eastern tent caterpillar. Participants discussed various studies and asked plenty of questions in an effort to lay the groundwork for future research.
The sessions focused on field and clinical observations of MRLS, laboratory correlates of MRLS, epidemiological and climatic correlates of MRLS, potential candidates for the Eastern tent caterpillar MRLS-inducing agent, investigative studies on MRLS and associated syndromes, experimental replication of MRLS, the connection with black cherry trees and caterpillar frass, and MRLS monitoring programs for 2002.
MRLS was so named in the spring of 2001 when mares in Central Kentucky and other areas suffered early and late fetal losses. In 2002, a monitoring program of 12 Thoroughbred and Standardbred farms in Central Kentucky showed that six of the 12 farms experienced early fetal loss and/or late-term abortions between April 25 and June 13. Except for two late-term abortions, the occurrences were always associated with the Eastern tent caterpillar.
Researchers discussed everything from using llamas as animal models for MRLS to finding ways of keeping plenty of Eastern tent caterpillars on hand for regular research projects. They also discussed reports of MRLS-like symptoms in other animals such as beef cattle and goats.
Dr. Steve Conboy said a big concern for horse farms is finding cost-effective ways to combat MRLS. Tree-cutting is quite popular, he said, "but it's not aesthetic and it's quite expensive." He said the "most important part of the equation for the industry is immediate control."
The workshop was coordinated by Drs. David Powell and Thomas Tobin, and Amy Troppman, all of the Gluck Equine Research Center. It was the first such conference on MRLS, which has been the subject of continuous research at the Gluck Center since the spring of 2001. Though it may have raised even more questions, researchers were satisfied.
"This will help the college decide on the scope of work for the next season of research on MRLS," said Dr. Nancy Cox, associate dean for research at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.