3rd May 2000

Largest grant to study horse disease

A leading horse charity has teamed up with genome researchers in an effort to beat the equine disease strangles. The Home of Rest for Horses, based in Buckinghamshire, has financed a £250,000 project to decode all the genes in the bacterium that causes strangles, Streptococcus equi. Hundreds of outbreaks of strangles occur each year in the UK and they are often difficult to control and individual cases can be difficult to treat.

Brigadier Paul Jepson, Secretary of the Home of Rest for Horses, said, "The Home of Rest is delighted to fund this work. We thought long and hard and talked to many experts in the field before deciding how best to attack strangles. We are confident that this new approach will lead to breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of this distressing disease."

Strangles is the most common infectious disease in horses worldwide and the funding by the Home of Rest is the largest grant in its 100-year history for a single one-year project. Researchers at The Animal Health Trust, one of the UK's leading veterinary research organizations, have teamed up with scientists at the Universities of Newcastle and Cambridge to tackle the disease with the help of the Sanger Centre, which is a recognized leader in sequencing genomes.

Dr Neil Chanter of The Animal Health Trust said, "Research towards an effective strangles vaccine has been severely hampered by an almost complete lack of knowledge of how S. equi causes the disease."

Dr Julian Parkhill, leader of the sequencing team at the Sanger Centre, said, "This unique partnership will provide for the first time a focused attack on the molecules that make up S. equi. We believe that the understanding of how this disease-causing organism is put together will help to identify new targets to develop vaccines to prevent it."

Streptococcus equi is highly contagious in horses and donkeys but is rarely transmitted to other organisms. Strangles is most severe in young horses, and complications can be fatal: as many as 10% of infected animals may die. S. equi has been identified as the cause of strangles for over 100 years, but as yet, there is no effective vaccine.

The bacterium is thought to use an array of complex mechanisms to invade tissues of the horse and cause disease. An effective vaccine may have to stimulate the immune system to attack several of these. By identifying all the genes in S. equi the team predicts that the bacterial mechanisms will be pulled apart much more quickly.

For further information contact:

Don Powell
Press Office, The Sanger Centre
Tel:    01223 494 956
Fax:    01223 494 714
email:  don@sanger.ac.uk

The Secretary
The Home of Rest for Horses
Tel:    01494 488 464
Fax:    01494 488 767
email:  homeofrestforhorses@btinternet.com

Clare Phillips
Press Office, The Animal Health Trust
Tel:    01638 555 637
Fax:    01638 555 606
email:  clare.phillips@aht.org.uk

Beck Lockwood
Press Office, University of Cambridge
Tel:    01223 332 300
Fax:    01223 330 262
email:  rll24@hermes.cam.ac.uk

Dr Julian Parkhill (The Sanger Centre)
Dr Neil Chanter (The Animal Health Trust)
Professor Duncan Maskell (University of Cambridge)
Professor Mike Kehoe (University of Newcastle)

Notes to editors:

  1. The Home of Rest for Horses was instituted in May 1886 in response to the prevailing standards of care for working horses and donkeys. The present Home of Rest for Horses, near Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire, was officially opened in1971. With over 80 loose boxes and skilled staff, the Home provides expert care for its 200 residents each year. The Home of Rest provides funding to other charitable organizations to help improve the care of horses, ponies and donkeys, and in support of investigational projects leading to the prevention and cure of disease.
  2. The Sanger Centre, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, is one of the world's leading genome sequencing centres. Both the Sanger Centre and the Wellcome Trust have been at the forefront of efforts to keep sequence data in the public domain. The Sanger Centre employs about 500 people in the purpose-built campus at Hinxton. The Centre is a leading partner in the Human Genome Project and also contributes to international projects to sequence the genomes of disease-causing organisms such as the meningitis bacterium and the malarial parasite.
  3. The Animal Health Trust is unique as a registered charity (no. 209642) that has been helping dogs, cats and horses for almost sixty years both through advancing veterinary science and as a centre of excellence for research into and treatment of sickness and injury. It has evolved into one of the foremost centres for animal health. Its successes have ranged from major breakthroughs in anaesthesia and surgical techniques to pioneering research into infectious conditions, including the development of vaccines to prevent diseases such as canine distemper and equine influenza.
  4. The Wellcome Trust is the world's largest medical research charity with an annual spend of some £600 million in the current financial year 1999/2000. The Wellcome Trust supports more than 3000 researchers at 300 locations in 30 different countries - laying the foundations for the healthcare advances of the 21st century and helping to maintain the UK's reputation as one of the world's leading scientific nations. As well as funding major initiatives in the public understanding of science, the Wellcome Trust is the country's leading supporter of research into the history of medicine.
  5. The DNA of every living organism is made up of four chemical "bases" represented by the letters A, C, G, and T. The bases are paired together, A with T and C with G, to produce double-stranded DNA in the familiar helix. The number of base-pairs varies from a few thousand for the smallest viruses to several billions for complex organisms. The DNA sequence of base-pairs contains all the instructions to make an organism: decoding that set of instructions is the heart of a sequencing project.

    DNA sequences of pathogens reveal details of all the genes and in addition give valuable insight into how the bacterium may change or mutate to evade detection by the host immune system.

    Recently the DNA sequences of two types of Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningitis in humans, were published. Using the sequence information, workers in the US and Italy have identified many new potential vaccines.

  6. Streptococcus equi is transmitted via the nose or mouth. It invades the lymph glands, which are part of the horse's immune defences. Lymph nodes help to remove bacteria, and produce some of the molecules (antibodies) and cells (lymphocytes) that are the mainstay of the immune system. Early symptoms are raised temperature, depression, nasal pus and enlarged glands.

    Strangles is the most common equine disease reported in the UK: most animals recover uneventfully but, in individual outbreaks, in about one in ten cases complications set in that may be fatal. Antibiotics may not be effective in treating abscesses. There is no currently available vaccine that prevents infection. Immunity following infection is incomplete and short-lived.

    S. equi appears to avoid detection by producing a protective covering called a capsule that is poorly recognized by the immune system. In addition, it produces toxins that destroy blood cells.

Contact the Press Office

Mark Thomson Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, Cambs, CB10 1SA, UK

Tel +44 (0)1223 492 384
Mobile +44 (0)7753 775 397
Fax +44 (0)1223 494 919
Email press.office@sanger.ac.uk

* quick link - http://q.sanger.ac.uk/7grkwwan