PhD students to investigate exercise and heat risk factors in Thoroughbreds


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The AgriFutures™ Thoroughbred Horses Program has approved two PhD research projects that will not only support development and extension activities to address Thoroughbred industry challenges and opportunities, but create capacity building opportunities for researchers.

The first postgraduate research project will be led by University of Adelaide’s Dr Laura Nath, who look at risk factors for exercise induced arrhythmias in Thoroughbreds, as part of a larger project Detection of cardiac inflammation and fibrosis in Thoroughbred racehorses.

Racing jurisdictions worldwide fund post-mortem examination of horses that die during racing. Dr Nath’s project will use advanced histopathological methods to investigate the presence of fibrosis and inflammation in cardiac tissue of three specific groups of Thoroughbreds that have died in racing or training;

1. Thoroughbreds that have died due to suspected sudden cardiac death
2. Thoroughbreds euthanased after injury during racing
3. age matched untrained horses.

AgriFutures Australia Program Manager Research & Innovation, Ashley Radburn said the research is a vital step to address challenges and opportunities in an industry that is worth approximately $5 billion/annum to the Australian economy, and employs more than 65,000 people, particularly in rural and regional areas.

“Cardiac arrhythmias are a serious cause of collapse and sudden death in racehorses, and a serious welfare concern for horses and their riders, as riders are almost always injured when a horse collapses on the track. Through this research we hope to ascertain the mechanisms contributing to exercise-induced arrhythmias in horses, which may assist in the development of strategies to reduce the incidence of arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death,” said Mr Radburn.

The second PhD research project will focus on understanding and reducing the effects of heat stress on Thoroughbred stallion fertility to improve reproductive outcomes. University of Newcastle PhD student Roisin Griffin is stationed in the Hunter Valley and will work closely with Thoroughbred stud farms to collect samples and analyse data from this research.

Whilst the industry already knows that systemic heat stress in mammals is detrimental to sperm production and male fertility, this phenomenon has not been adequately examined in the horse, or in a field setting relevant to the Australian Thoroughbred industry.

Currently in Australia, there is no information available on how the climatic conditions experienced by stallions in the major Thoroughbred breeding hubs of Australia affect a stallion’s fertility. This research will look to address this, as well as how projected increases in temperature associated with climate change may affect the industry’s productivity in the future.

AgriFutures™ Thoroughbred Horses Advisory Panel Chair, Dr Nigel Perkins said the new PhD projects are an exciting addition to the new RD&E Program as they will help to address key research priorities.

“We look forward to sharing the results with industry and exploring more opportunities to bring new researchers into the program,” said Dr Perkins.

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