PA Horse Breeders Association to contribute funds for biomarker research

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: June 1, 2018

The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission May 31 signed off on a request by the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association to provide $300,000 to the state equine drug-testing laboratory for biomarker and genetic research.

The Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory, headed by Dr. Mary Robinson, has been working to establish biomarkers, including those to determine if horses have been shock-waved. But the overall goal is to identify performance-enhancing substances for which there currently are no tests.

PHBA Executive Secretary Brian Sanfratello noted that members about a year and a half ago participated in a survey, and the primary concern was the integrity of horse racing in Pennsylvania. The PHBA, horsemen’s groups and racetracks all told the PHRC it needed to be a priority.

Deanna Manfredi, a PHBA board member and a consultant in the biotech and health care fields, told the racing commission the results of current equine drug testing aren’t “necessarily an indication there is no doping. There is an ever-increasing number of performance-enhancing substances for which there is no test.”

Manfredi said research is needed to better understand the effect such substances have on the equine body. That entails developing a biomarker bank and eventually technology that would allow blood to be quickly tested before races as well as post-race.

Robinson said the contribution from the PHBA will allow the lab to hire an individual to begin collecting samples from healthy horses rather than those being treated at the lab that is part of the University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center. In addition, the funding will be used to purchase freezers for storage of the blood.

“This is going to take more than a single donation, but it’s a good place to start,” Robinson said. “We’re looking at partnering with The Jockey Club, and the (Racing Medication and Testing Consortium) is interested in the project. Gene therapies are already a reality (in other countries), and we’re all working together to make headway as quickly as possible.”

PHRC member Sal DeBunda, President of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, suggested “other Mid-Atlantic states get involved in this initiative” through a regional working group of stakeholders that meets at least once a year to discuss medication, testing and uniform regulations.