Scientists researching the eradication of strangles have been given afunding boost to aid development of a rapid diagnostic test.

In just three years, it is hoped that vets across the world could confirm cases of strangles, the most commonly diagnosed infectious disease in horses, within 30 minutes.

“Breaking the Strangles Hold” – a two-year joint fund-raising campaign by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and The British Horse Society (BHS) – has played a key role in raising funds for the work, and further funding of more than £500,000 has now been awarded.

Graham Cory, chief executive of the BHS, said: “Along with raising funds for the scientific work, key to this campaign has been tackling the stigma of strangles. By encouraging horse owners and vets to talk about it, we’ve heightened awareness of early symptoms to look out for.

“Empowering people with knowledge gives them the confidence to call their vet at the first sign of infection, which prevents the further spread of disease.”

Money donated from the general public, along with funding from The Horse Trust, has allowed scientists at the AHT to develop a diagnostic blood test to screen for exposure to the infection. The blood test was launched in February 2008, and since then more than 6,700 samples have been tested.

The success of the diagnostic work, along with other AHT research, has attracted further funding for the project from the Wellcome Trust in the form of a Translation Award. An award of more than £580,000 will enable scientists at the AHT to reduce the time taken to diagnose the disease.

The two-year grant will support the integration of the AHT DNA test and rapid diagnostic technology developed by Atlas Genetics.

Professor Andrew Waller, head of bacteriology at the AHT, said: “The main problem with strangles is the time taken to diagnose it. The current blood test is a big step forward, but the culture and DNA tests, which are often used in the initial stages of an outbreak, can take a couple of days to get results.”

The Translation Award means the AHT can reduce the time taken to perform its DNA diagnostic test and ultimately produce a point-of-care test that vets can use on site to get a diagnosis in 30 minutes. Earlier diagnosis will allow owners to isolate horses sooner and minimise the spread of infection. It will further reduce welfare problems for horses and the cost to their owners.

The AHT and Atlas Genetics will design and validate the point-of-care diagnostic test over the next two years. It is hoped that the test could be mass produced and widely available by 2012.

Professor Waller added: “This technology will be fantastic. It will be hugely beneficial for other diseases too, of both veterinary and clinical importance. Without the money raised through the ‘Breaking the Strangles Hold’ campaign, we wouldn’t have made as much progress. On behalf of horses and horse owners worldwide, I’d like to thank everyone who has donated.”

The “Breaking the Strangles Hold” campaign reached its initial fund-raising target of £250,000 in just two years.

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