Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on September 28, 2006. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Student studies skin disorder in horses
By Shoshana Brackett
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Ashley Hill does not fit the profile of a traditional scientific researcher. She's a second year veterinary student who spent her summer researching a disabling skin disorder in horses.
Hill was one of 16 students participating in a student summer research program at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Jerald Ainsworth, associate dean of research and graduate studies at the CVM, said the 12-week summer program provides students with valuable insight into the work of scientists.
“For the first week, students participate in training on ethics, research career opportunities, and do poster and oral presentations,” Ainsworth said.
The students are totally immersed in a research project, either on a new project or part of their advisor's project. Under the direction of her advisor, Hill gathered data to aid research on hyperelastosis cutis, a skin disorder in horses.
Hill said the disease is inherited and is prevalent in certain lines of American Quarter Horses, particularly cutting horses.
“A harmless event can cause great damage. Putting a saddle on a sick horse can cause open wounds and sloughing of skin,” Hill said.
The disease is usually discovered in 2-year-old foals, mainly because that is the age when horses are introduced to tack, Hill said. This connective tissue disorder is similar to a human disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Type VI, or EDSVI.
“It's so similar it's astounding,” she said. “I've been looking at skin samples and examining their collagen crosslinks to determine if you see the same things as in humans.”
This summer, Hill traveled twice to Salt Lake City, to work a total of four weeks in cooperation with Associated Regional and University Pathologists Inc. at the University of Utah. ARUP does diagnostic testing for humans.
Dr. Cyprianna Swiderski, Hill's advisor and a CVM assistant professor in clinical sciences, has been studying this disease with Utah researchers for two years. Hill took small skin samples from healthy and sick horses at the CVM and tested them in labs in Utah.
“I was looking at skin samples of horses that we knew to have the disease and that did not have the disease,” Hill said. “In the four weeks time, I was able to get and process an amazing amount of data.”
Hill's findings have been extremely helpful in narrowing the list of possible genetic defects responsible for the skin disease. Further, her work provides a strong link between the horse and human disorders. The data gathered will help in the development of better diagnostic testing for horses.
“This is such a new disease that anything we can get out there is a great help,” she said.
Hill said that the goal is to gain understanding of the disease and be able to educate the horse industry further.
The Morris Animal Foundation and MSU's Office of the Vice President for Research funded Hill's project.
Contact: Dr. Cyprianna Swiderski, (662) 325-3432