OCD in Horses

In the past week, I have managed to conduct an interview with Dr. Ralston, who was kind enough to recount some of her previous research. Dr. Ralston conducted a study on osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), which is Developmental Orthopedic Disease that causes horses’ bones to be weak. Her team gathered a large sample size of very similar horses (both in genetics and how they were brought up). The only difference was that of the mothers, one mother would have OCD and the other would not. They took blood samples of the horses, and found interesting results.
To obtain this data, Dr. Ralston and her team used a process called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). NMR is an analytical process that used different cells
magnetic fields. When introduced to NMR’s own magnetic fields, it creates a spectrum that can be measured.
The first result is that the data differed in a month period, which gave evidence that glucose levels were affected by the season/monthly period. The second of which was even more interesting; horses with OCD tended to have higher amounts of essential amino acids than nonessential amino acids. Normally, the horses would turn their essential amino acids into nonessential amino acids via a metabolic pathway. Since the levels of essential amino acids were so high, Dr. Ralston deduced that pathway that caused essential amino acids to turn into nonessential amino acids was probably malfunctioning in horses with OCD, which may be a reason why OCD exists.
Another interesting bit of research that Dr. Ralston has worked on deals with Diabetes. Insulin abnormalities are common in young horses, so it has been proposed that horses could make an apt model for the benefit of humans suffering from type 2 diabetes. Although more research needs to be done, the possibility is still there.


Dr. Sarah L. Ralston, Equine Examiner

Animal studies have always felt more personal than other forms of studies. Geography, chemistry, and physics are all well an good, but ecology will always be this writer’s personal favorite.

This sentiment is shared be Dr. Sarah Ralston, a current professor at Rutgers University. Specifically, her interest and research subject revolves around equines. Her work with horses has gotten her a lot of attention and two awards/honors, as well as allowing her the opportunity to take part in many national equine and veterinary committees. The two committees she is currently apart of are the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Education Contract Program Advisory Committee and the National Association of Equine Affiliated Academics: working group for development of NAEAA ‘alumni’ survey tool.

Dr. Ralston got her bachelors, doctorate, and her veterinary license (School of Veterinary Medicine) at the University of Pennsylvania. Other forms of education include her Masters gotten from Colorado State University in Fort Collins and her Board Certification at the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

One study she has taken a part in was her research on glucose/insulin metabolism and growth in horses. A link was found between a high-grain (high carbohydrate) diet and to developmental orthopedic diseases in young horses. For older horses, this kind of diet has also been linked with a disease known as laminitis. Due to this link, their is research studying metabolic alterations between different diet: one high in carbohydrates and one low in carbohydrates. To do this, they use a process known as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) to better collect data.