Penn Vet's New Bolton Center Hospital at Kennett Square, Pa.

Penn Vet's New Bolton Center Hospital at Kennett Square, Pa.

Penn Vet/University of Pennsylvania

Pa. Breeders Donate $300k for Gene Doping Research

Donation supports New Bolton Center research projects.

The Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association announced June 14 it has donated $300,000 to the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center's Equine Pharmacology Laboratory to fund revolutionary research to detect gene doping in equine athletes. Gene doping involves the transfer or modification of genes or genetically modified cells of healthy human athletes, as well as equine athletes, for non-therapeutic purpose to enhance athletic performance.

The $300,000 donation from the PHBA supports a multi-tiered, multi-year project, which includes continued research into potential protein and RNA-based biomarkers that have been identified as showing promise for detecting gene doping. The project will also include continued expansion of a BioBank that is used to evaluate baseline levels of these blood-based bio-markers in active and injured racehorses. The BioBank also is used to evaluate physiological changes in the musculoskeletal structure using New Bolton Center's robotics controlled imaging system.

"Our members, all of whom are Pennsylvania Thoroughbred horse breeders, have consistently stated that maintaining integrity in the sport of racing is one of their top priorities," said Brian Sanfratello, executive secretary of the PHBA "We are pleased to partner with New Bolton Center, an internationally renowned equine hospital and research institution, to fund this ground-breaking research and help combat gene doping."    

"We are proud of our record at New Bolton Center for remaining on the cutting edge of detecting and preventing the use of performance enhancing and illicit pharmaceuticals in equine athletes," said Dr. Mary Robinson, director of the Equine Pharmacology Laboratory at New Bolton Center.

"With this grant, we can continue to be a leader in protecting the integrity of horse racing.  While gene therapy represents an important breakthrough for patients with disease-causing genes and rare genetic diseases, we need to be sure that we are taking steps to stay ahead of those who would seek to use these advances for illicit means."   

The $300,000 donation represents a significant investment for the PHBA and was championed by PHBA board president Roger Legg and board member/chair of the PHBA's Medication Committee Deanna Manfredi.

Manfredi's committee conducted extensive research on the issue and established it as a priority for the organization. Because the money is being allocated from the association's share of the State Racing Fund, which is typically used for enhanced breeder awards and incentives, the PHBA had to seek approval of Pennsylvania's State Horse Racing Commission. The commission approved the PHBA's request to provide the funding by unanimous vote at its monthly meeting May 31.           

"My fellow commissioners and I applaud the PHBA and the New Bolton Center for funding and undertaking this revolutionary research project to combat efforts to subvert fairness and integrity in the sport of horse racing," said Russell Jones, a commissioner with the State Horse Racing Commission in Pennsylvania. "The State Horse Racing Commission is committed to maintaining a fair and level, playing field, both for our fans and the vast majority of owners and trainers who play by the rules." 

Penn Vet's New Bolton Center said it is continuing to seek additional funding for this research program.