A BOLD new initiative by Scotland's world-renowned Moredun Research Institute has targeted the 100-year mystery of equine grass sickness – by gathering together top scientists with no previous experience of the disease.

EGS is a devastating disease that affects horses with no known cause, and no known cure. When it strikes, 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 – but only a minority go back to a full, healthy and productive life.

To crack this veterinary nut, the Moredun gathered a group of 30 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, for a day of discussion and debate.

Over eight hours the volunteer 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 that the gathering will mark a watershed in the century-old quest to find a solution to the EGS 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," said Dr Wells. "Their input is a game-changer in terms of generating new areas of research or new technologies that can revive previous research. The Equine Grass Sickness Fund needs more funding to support research in new areas. We appeal to the industries that benefit from equine ownership and sport to provide the funding we need to bring an end to the misery of EGS.”

Read more: Samples required to aid with Equine Grass Sickness research

Kate Thompson, from the Equine Grass Sickness Fund, said: “I am so grateful for Moredun Research Institute taking a lead with such an innovative and productive event. We couldn’t have done it without the support of 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.”

Moredun Research fellow, Kathy Geyer, who is managing the Equine Grass Sickness Biobank, hoped that the event and subsequent awareness within the scientific community would result in many more samples to progress the research.

“This collaboration is just the start of new relationships with people and organisations across the scientific and equine community. It is only through the sharing of knowledge, experience and samples that we will be able to achieve the goal of eradicating Equine Grass Sickness, not just in Scotland but across the world.”