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Researcher Discovers Link Between Protein in Equine Fat Tissue and Mortality From Colic

A research project funded by The Horse Trust has discovered that the expression of a particular protein in fat tissue is positively associated with an increased rate of post-operative mortality in horses.

The research was led by Melissa Packer, who recently finished a three year clinical training programme at the University of Liverpool funded by The Horse Trust.

Packer collected abdominal fat samples from around 300 horses undergoing colic surgery. She then looked at the expression of various cytokine¹ genes in the fat tissue to see which cytokines were being produced. Each of the 300 horses were then followed over the next two years, with data gathered on whether and when each horse had died².

After analysing fat samples from 100 horses, Packer found a significant and positive association between the expression of a cytokine called MCP-1 and an increased rate of post-operative mortality.

“The relationship between MCP-1 and mortality from colic, opens up the possibility of using it as a diagnostic tool when examining horses. Such a test would be useful for vets when dealing with horses that are seriously ill and where it is uncertain whether they would survive additional surgery, or whether it is better to consider euthanasia,” said Packer.

Testing for the genetic expression of MCP-1 would take too long at present, as the DNA must first be amplified using a technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). However, further developments could speed up the test.

Packer found no relationship between post-operative mortality and the other cytokines she looked at: leptin, adiponectin, TNF, MIF and IL-6.

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