Equine Science Update
Reports from the world of  equine research.
Blood test for gastric ulcers?
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Gastric ulcers in foals seem to have become more common in recent years. It is hard to say how common they really are because of the difficulty in confirming the diagnosis.

They are often seen in foals following a stressful situation - such as transportation and treatment for other diseases. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as phenylbutazone, can precipitate the disease.  But by no means is the condition seen only in foals that have been treated with NSAIDs.

Affected foals typically have diarrhoea, grind their teeth and salivate excessively. They may go off their food and lie on their backs

Severe cases may die if the ulcer perforates, but most cases are not as dramatic. If the ulceration has spread to the duodenum, scarring may occur as it heals. This can cause on-going problems, as the flow of food through the bowel is restricted.

Many cases of gastric ulceration in foals do not show specific signs. So the challenge is, how do you confirm that a foal has gastric ulcer?

The best way is to examine the stomach lining and duodenum using a flexible endoscope. However, this is technically difficult, and if possible foals over 3 weeks of age should be starved of solid food for 12 hours and milk for 4 hours (milk) before examination.

Researchers in Japan may have found a simpler way of identifying animals with gastric ulcers. Work carried out in the Rakuno Gakuen University School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that it may be possible to use blood samples to identify foals with gastric ulcers.

Dr S. Taharaguchi and others isolated a specific protein in the blood of foals with gastric ulcers.

They found a 55kDa protein, which they identified as an isoform of a1-antitrypsin. It was present in 44 of 47 samples from foals with ulcers confirmed by endoscopy. In contrast, they found it in only three of 22 samples from healthy foals.

Ulcers occur when the acids and enzymes that are present in the stomach start to attack the stomach itself.  The scientists suggest that this specific form of a1- antitrypsin may be produced as a protective response to damage by the proteolytic enzymes, or it may be the result of intact a1-antitrypsin being broken down by the ulcer.

They suggest that future studies need to look how the protein is produced and at what stage of the disease it appears. If the serum concentration of the 55kDa a1- antitrypsin proves to be correlated with the severity of the ulcer, it may even be possible in the future to assess the severity of gastric ulcers by analysing the serum samples.

For more details see:

Detection of an isoform of a1-antitrypsin in serum samples from foals with gastric ulcers.
S Taharaguchi, A Nagano, K Okai, T Miyasho, M Kuwano, H Taniyama, H Yokota.
Vet Rec (2007) 161, 338 - 342

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