Using horses to study asthma
Image source: Burlington Equine Veterinary Services, LLC.
Talk about comparative physiology! Some older horses develop a condition called equine heaves, which is similar to asthma in humans. Horses that live in more humid environments that promote mold growth are more prone to the disorder than horses that have lived in dry environments. It is also common in stabled horses fed hay as a result of prolonged exposure to dust particles released while eating. Similar to humans with asthma, there seems to be a genetic link to the disorder in horses.
The treatment of horses with heaves is similar to humans: changing the environment to have fewer dust particles or mold as well as treatment with anti-inflammatory medications and sometimes bronchodilators (image above). This makes the horse an ideal model in which to study asthma. Dr. Virginia Buechner-Maxwell at Virginia Tech University says the condition is actually easier to study in a horse because larger samples of blood can be collected for testing and the animals comply with treatments for their condition better than humans. Her lab is also able to collect samples from the larynx of horses which requires only light sedation, whereas collecting similar samples from humans requires anesthesia since our larynx is more prone to spasms.
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Sources:Virginia Public Radio
Camargo FC, et al., Heaves in Horses. Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
Burlington Equine Veterinary Services, LLC