A small trial involving 100 horses and ponies is planned to test a potential vaccine against deadly equine grass sickness.
Grass sickness is a disease affecting nervous systems. Most visible clinical signs are related to paralysis within the digestive tract although nerve damage occurs throughout the body.
Signs include depression, anorexia, colic, excess salivation, constipation, nasogastric fluid secretion, patchy sweating, muscle tremors and eyelid drooping.
The Equine Grass Sickness Fund, the Animal Health Trust and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh have announced the trial, saying 100 horses and ponies had been enrolled for the study.
The pilot study is in preparation for a full vaccine trial, which is likely to start in 2013-2014, subject to sufficient funding.
The bigger trial would involve at least 1000 horses and ponies.
Organisers hope that the vaccine trials will mark a breakthrough in the prevention of the disease.
Dr Jo Ireland, of the Animal Health Trust, who is piloting the vaccine trial, said: “This is very exciting news and we are working flat out to get the study up and running.
“There is still a lot of work to do before launching the full nationwide vaccine trial, and this initial study will help us to ensure that the trial design will be practical to perform on a larger scale.”
The Equine Grass Sickness Fund is spearheading the campaign to raise funds for the full vaccine trial.
Fund spokeswoman Kate Thomson said: “We are over the moon that the vaccine trial is finally here, but fundraising now starts in earnest to ensure that the full trial can go ahead.
“Grass sickness takes a terrible annual death toll, and we are appealing to every horse owner in the UK to help bring an end to the disease by donating to this cause.”
Those interested in taking part in the full vaccine trial in Britain can register their interest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. They will be sent an owners pack once the researchers are ready to recruit participants. Details will be treated in the strictest confidence, and registering an interest places you under no obligation whatsoever.
More information: www.grasssickness.org.uk.