Equine Programs Home
The primary objectives of the University of Georgia Equine Programs are to enhance equine health and well being through research and education, and to disseminate information and outcomes of research to practicing veterinarians, research scientists, and equine enthusiasts and owners.
P.O. Eric Mueller, DVM, PhD, DACVS
Director of Equine Programs
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Georgia
501 D.W. Brooks Drive
Athens, GA 30602-7385
Equine Programs Research
Our primary research occurs in four main areas:
- Endotoxemia and Systemic Inflammation
- Foal Pneumonia, and
We chose these areas because they are critical diseases of the horse.
Laminitis is a debilitating disease that occurs in horses with severe cases of colic and in horses that have to bear an excessive amount of weight on one limb; the most common example of the latter is a horse recovering from repair of a fracture it its leg.
Presently, the mechanisms responsible for the development of laminitis are unknown. As a result, treatments are directed towards relieving the symptoms rather than the cause.
We recently have determined that the small veins in the horse’s foot function abnormally in the earliest stages of laminitis, at the same time there is local evidence of inflammation.
Our goals are to identify the underlying reason for this functional abnormality in the laminar veins, to identify the link, if any, with the inflammatory response, and to test the ability of well-targeted therapies to prevent these changes from happening.
Endotoxemia and Systemic Inflammation
While the inflammatory response is a normal component of tissue healing and repair, it can also be deleterious. Inflammatory white blood cells entering the tissue can release damaging enzymes, and result in the tissue destruction.
The effects of inflammation are particularly evident in horses in which bacterial endotoxins move from the intestine into the blood stream. These endotoxins stimulate a variety of responses involving white blood cells, endothelial cells that line blood vessels, and circulating proteins. Many of these responses are due to changes in the activity of the genes involved in the inflammatory response.
Because horses are exquisitely sensitive to the ill effects of endotoxins, our goals are to identify the specific ways endotoxins stimulate horse cells and test new treatments designed to interfere with these inflammatory responses.
Pneumonia is the leading cause of sickness and death in foals in the U.S., and many of these animals are infected with Rhodococcus equi, a pathogen that lives and replicates inside macrophages in the foal’s lungs.
We have performed in vitro studies with macrophages obtained from normal, healthy foals, and have determined that the foal’s macrophages respond differently to the Rhodococcus equi organisms than do macrophages from adult horses.
We currently are studying the effects of inflammatory proteins secreted by macrophages from adult horses on the response of the foal macrophages to the organisms. We hope that the results of these studies will move us closer to development of a vaccine against this devastating disease.
Coagulation, or blood clotting, is a normal process that prevents excessive blood loss after blood vessels are damaged. However, coagulation also can be detrimental, especially if it occurs in the absence of direct trauma to a vessel.
Sick horses, especially those with colitis (inflammation of the colon), often develop blood clots that impair organ function or prevent the intravenous administration of fluids needed to restore their circulating blood volume.
To address these problems, we are using new techniques to evaluate blood coagulation in horses and are evaluating new drugs that are designed to regulate coagulation.
Endowed Research Chair
Meet UGA CVM’s first Marguerite Thomas Hodgson Chair of Equine Studies
by Sue Myers Smith
Dr. Steeve Giguère’s interest in equine medicine arose from growing up around horses. However, his interest in research really took off after seeing some unusual cases of partial paralysis in foals. As an intern, Dr. Giguère encountered several foals infected with Rhodococcus equi that presented with abscesses compressing their spinal cords. R. equi typically manifests as pneumonia with abscesses in the lungs, but in these cases, the compression caused by the abscesses paralyzed the foals’ hind limbs. Dr. Giguère became fascinated with the pathogen and, as a result, published a series of case studies; he also made it the topic of his doctoral research.
Dr. Giguère, the first recipient of the Marguerite Thomas Hodgson Chair of Equine Studies at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, has since become an award-winning researcher and teacher, most recently receiving the Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health Applied Equine Research Award at the World Equine Veterinary Association Congress held in Guarujá-SP, Brazil in September. He comes to the College from the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where he was a professor of large animal medicine and head of the neonatal unit.
“The main reason (I was interested in working at UGA) was that many people work in similar areas of research — inflammation, immunity and infectious diseases — so there will be more opportunities for team work and collaborations,” said Dr. Giguère.
His education has taken him from the University of Montreal, where he completed his doctorate in veterinary medicine and internship in equine medicine and surgery, to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center for a residency, then back to Canada to complete a Ph.D. in veterinary microbiology and immunology at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.
With more than 70 refereed papers to his credit — more than half of those on various diseases and conditions affecting foals — as well as numerous book chapters and a book on antimicrobial therapies, Dr. Giguère has researched everything from vaccines to diagnosis and treatment of infections such as R. equi, a treatable pathogen that seldom affects adult horses. He recently has focused on how to treat foals infected with antimicrobial-resistant strains of the disease, and also trying to better understand why it is that foals are susceptible to the pathogen while adults are resistant. His other research areas have included the use of antimicrobials in horses and the study of cardiovascular monitoring in neonatal foals.
His teaching credentials are equally impressive, and he has received numerous teaching awards stretching from his days as a resident at New Bolton all the way to the highest veterinary teaching honor bestowed each year: the Carl Norden-Pfizer Distinguished Teacher Award, which he received from the veterinary college at the University of Florida in 2006.
“Dr. Giguère is a talented researcher, teacher, and clinician — a genuine triple threat,” said Dr. Andrew Parks, head of the College’s department of large animal medicine.
For Dr. Giguère, teaching was not his original intent, but rather a manifestation of a self-discovery.
“I always intended to work in an equine practice after veterinary school. However, during my internship I really enjoyed teaching students and I decided to pursue advanced training in order to remain in an academic environment,” he said, adding: “There is nothing more gratifying than seeing the evolution of a veterinary student from their first day on clinics, when they have much theoretical knowledge that they do not know how to apply, to their last rotation, when they have evolved into astute young clinicians.”
Three years ago a horse owned by David Helmuth of Milledgeville, Georgia, was referred to the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital for a broken bone in his front leg. Today, Rusty is preparing to lead the first-ever six-horse stagecoach team for Wells Fargo in the 2018 Tournament of Roses parade.
Rusty is a 10-year old Belgian who works as a member of the Wells Fargo Bank stagecoach team. In 2014, Rusty was kicked in the shin by another horse right before pulling the stage in the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day parade. It didn’t appear serious at the time, but the next morning his leg was very swollen so David contacted his local veterinarian who referred them to the UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital, part of the College of Veterinary Medicine. Once in Athens, Rusty's veterinary team determined that extensive medical care and surgery would be required to treat the injury, but the prognosis wasn’t great. David was told that it was possible that Rusty may never be sound again.
Despite the risks, David decided to go ahead with the surgery. Rusty came through with flying colors thanks to the dedicated team at the VTH and now, three years later, Rusty can boast a 100% recovery. He hasn’t been lame a day since the surgery.
Tune in to watch the 129th Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day to cheer on Rusty and David before the Dawgs take on the Sooners in the Rose Bowl!
For the Love of the Horse Research Endowment
You are an integral component of our mission to improving horse heath and well-being. With your generous support we have established the “Love of the Horse” Research Endowment. One hundred percent of the proceeds of this endowment go toward supporting basic and clinical research investigating mechanisms of diseases and various conditions that adversely effect horses. With our combined efforts we continue to improve the well-being, and quality of life, of both horses and their owners.