Next Steps Toward Solving MRLS Involve Think Tank

Veterinarians and researchers trying to pinpoint the cause of mare reproductive loss syndrome have joined together to create an MRLS "think tank," the progress and goals of which were discussed April 1 at a joint meeting of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club and the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners in Lexington.

The veterinarians returned often to one theme: a need for funding. They repeatedly called for funding for research and increased funding to upgrade the facilities at the University of Kentucky's Livestock Diagnostic and Disease Center.

"We've lost a half a billion dollars (in horses) and put up $500,000," Dr. Richard Holder said. "You do the math. It's not going to take that much (money). We have to find the cause of this. I think our credibility as a good place to raise horses relies on this."

Holder said his conversations with researchers indicated that since the Eastern tent caterpillar is a proven link to MRLS, determining the way it affects horses is much easier and achievable through research than starting from scratch.

Holder said the think tank should make progress and communication more effective because it centralizes all efforts toward solving MRLS and prioritizes research projects. The group is working to establish a caterpillar bank, or a mass of the insects to use for testing. Then it will run trials to dissect the caterpillars and try to reproduce symptoms of MRLS in an attempt to find its source.

Members of the think tank include University of Kentucky researchers Dr. Bruce Webb and Dr. Karen McDowell; epidemiologist Dr. Francois Elvinger; Dr. Don Schlafer from Cornell University; and entomologist Jeff Bloomquist from Virginia Technical University.

"The think tank approach is certainly different," Holder said. "They're not really competing for funds or recognition. It's organized; they're sharing information. We're not duplicating trials."

Dr. James Morehead used the increase in late-term abortions last fall to illustrate the needs of the diagnostic center, as well as its potential as a data-collection source. Morehead said between late July 2002 and Jan. 29 of this year, 511 aborted fetuses from 173 different farms were examined by the LDDC, and so far, the pathologic findings from those fetuses do not resemble previous symptoms of late-term abortions due to MRLS.

Some late-term abortions are normal, but Morehead said the fact some occurred in clusters--one farm had as many as 15--made the abortions unique. Though some of the risk factors were similar to MRLS, including proximity of cherry trees to affected mares, a link with MRLS has not been proven.

Morehead said the KAEP established a committee to discuss the LDDC and how it could better serve veterinarians. Among the suggestions is a computer program that could collect more data on submitted animals and identify similarities in mortalities. Creation of that computer program is now under way.