blood samples

In the last few years we have seen too many negative headlines around equine drug use. As a research scientist, with 30 years of regulatory drug testing experience, my team and I know this is a problem we cannot currently solve.

We know that it takes time to develop new tests for each new emerging drug, so we will always be behind. We know that each horse metabolize drugs at a different rate, making standard clearance and withdrawal times confusing. In addition, we know that there are environmental factors, human interactions and hundreds of other variables that can impact our current drug testing procedures.

After years of reviewing cases, consulting, researching, working on drug protocols and collaborating with veterinary pharmaceutical companies, we know that we need a better system. The current anti-doping system is not effective, it is out of pace with the current industry doping problems and cannot sufficiently meet our regulatory needs.

The Equine Biological Passport (EBP) program is the program needed to overcome today’s doping challenges and protect our industry’s reputation for the future.

The EBP program aims to identify specific biomarkers that can detect drug use and monitors those biomarkers over time. This allows us to detect drug abuse that occurs anytime in the horse’s development or during their performance career.

This project has been developing over the past several years as part of the racing industry’s effort to renew public awareness of equine safety, integrity and transparency.The program goals are aligned with both industry initiatives and stakeholder expectations, enabling distinctive separation for future drug violation versus inadvertent medication exposures. This program aims to differentiate contaminations from human and non-human contacts, which don’t effect performance.

The EBP program is a tool that will enable us to rapidly identify new drugs and measure/monitor the physiological effect on the equine athlete. These data will be critical in differentiating between intentional doping and accidental contaminants, which can smear the industry image and damage the reputation of the horse, the trainer and the owner.  

The focus of the equine biological passport project in 2019 was the investigation of the concept of protein biomarkers as an indicator of prohibited substance abuse. One benefit of this research program being moved to central Kentucky is the access to samples. In 2019 a large cohort of “baseline” samples, 196 specifically, were collected. Serum samples were collected from 80 yearlings from a Thoroughbred farm in central Kentucky, and known to be untreated with any prohibited substances. In addition to these samples, another 80 samples were collected in 2020 with the same parameters. A large cohort sampling has been pivotal and has allowed us to establish a normal population distribution range, these data will be used to generate the baseline for the Equine Biological Passport project. 

Establishing the baseline has been an essential first step, as it is needed to lay the foundation to compare and contrast normal and abnormal physiological effects.

Work is currently being undertaken and will continue for the remainder of 2020 to determine all proteins identifiable in the equine proteome by mass spectrometry. We must determine what proteins change in response to drug administrations.

More than ever, this past year has demonstrated to the world the value of quality science. The Equine Biological Passport program is an evolving research program, which is designed to expand and to be flexible enough to address new challenges, such as bio-therapeutics. Over the next several years, we will continue to validate and refine the EBP program to position it as a future tool for the industry. In addition, we know more scientific data is needed to support changes in rules, and regulations that will allow us to prosecute violators and prevent “at risk” horses from entering in competitions.

Funding for this project is entirely dependent on private support. For that reason, we are often making the dollar stretch, not able to hire our top candidates for the laboratory, waiting for the next donation to order equipment or supplies, etc.  We also take on projects that are not of the same significance, but will pay the bills. The annual cost to fully fund this project is $250,000 per year. Having a multi-year commitment is extremely beneficial in overcoming our financial challenges as it allows us to plan next steps without concerns for funding. There is currently $50,000 committed to fund this project for 2020.

For more information about this project, please contact Dr. Scott Stanley scott.stanley2@uky.edu 859.494.6319. For more information on how to support this effort or to make a gift please contact Danielle Jostes danielle.jostes@uky.edu 502.641.6906 or visit here.

Click here to support this effort.

See a video describing the project here.