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Equine genetic diseases

Veterinarians, breeders and horse owners increasingly recognize that genetic factors have a major impact on the health and well-being of horses. The extreme difficulty in diagnosing and treating heritable and complex disorders in horses has recently been addressed by a major grant to the University of Minnesota from the Morris Animal Foundation aimed at decoding and analyzing the genetic causes of a number of important equine diseases. The Morris Animal Foundation is the world's largest private funding source for companion animal and wildlife health studies.

In 2005, Morris Animal Foundation announced a new initiative to pinpoint equine health priorities and rapidly advance equine health through a large-scale consortium grant. The foundation recently announced the selection of the proposal from the University of Minnesota for funding. This $2.5 million grant for an Equine Consortium on Medical Genetics will be led by University of Minnesota professors Jim Mickelson and Stephanie Valberg in collaboration with 32 scientists from 18 academic institutions in nine countries. Drs. Mickelson and Valberg have proven expertise in translating rapidly accumulating knowledge on basic equine biology into practical solutions to problems facing equine veterinarians around the world. Their work has already led to the identification of the genetic causes for foal deaths such as Overo Lethal White Syndrome in Paint Horses and glycogen branching enzyme deficiency in Quarter Horses.

This grant will allow the development of new molecular tools, specific diagnostic tests and therapeutic strategies to treat and prevent diseases such as tying-up, heaves, osteochondrosis, laminitis and many others. Genetic diseases affect horses from every breed, so this project has tremendous potential for preventing and treating diseases with heritable risk factors. The pace of equine genetics research was fast forwarded recently by the announcement from The National Institutes of Health that the equine genome will be sequenced within the next year by scientists at the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A Thoroughbred mare named "Twilight" has been selected as the representative horse for genome sequencing.

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