Experts from an array of veterinary and environmental fields have converged in Britain to explore new approaches to the devastating disease Equine Grass Sickness that has vexed horse owners for more than 100 years. Equine Grass Sickness has no known cause, and no known cure. Healthy sport, leisure and family horses can be found dead in their fields and stables with no explanation. In other cases, horses are found in a depressed state which quickly results in the inability to swallow and digest forage. Most cases result in euthanasia. Some horses do survive but require years of rehabilitation. A minority go back to a full, healthy and productive life.

At an event hosted by the world-renowned Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh, experts in veterinary immunology, genetics, molecular biology, bacteriology and pathology along with environmental scientists from areas such as soil, grassland and catchment science and plant health and mycology specialists, convened to create a blueprint for future research to solve the mystery that has afflicted horses across the world for decades. Over eight hours more than 30 scientists, with a reputation for engaging new technology in their own research and with no previous knowledge of the disease, heard from experts in the field before being put into multi-disciplinary groups to find new areas for research focus. Event organiser and Moredun’s Principal Investigator, Dr Beth Wells, believes the day will mark a watershed in the century-old quest to find a solution to the Equine Grass Sickness mystery. “Bringing together so many disciplines in one room, for one day, to discuss an animal disease they have no previous knowledge of is unique. Their input is a game-changer in terms of generating new areas of research or new technologies that can revive previous research. The event will result in grant applications to take the ideas generated to new research projects.

Kate Thompson, administrator of the Equine Grass Sickness Fund, is optimistic that EGS can become a disease of the past and was grateful that Moredun had taken the lead with the “innovative and productive event”, which also involved the support of the SEFARI Gateway – the knowledge exchange hub for the Scottish Environment Food and Agriculture Research Institutes.

“I genuinely feel we are at the beginning of the end of a century of research to find a solution to something that is the worst fear of every horse owner,” Thompson said.

The Grass Sickness Biobank is a three-year project, with funding from the British Horse Society. The aim is to collect biological and environmental samples plus case reports for research analysis. Scientists interested in using the samples can apply to the Equine Grass Sickness Fund for access. The samples will be stored for up to 20 years.