The war on worms has entered a new stage as more equine parasites develop resistance to common deworming medications. It’s a 21st-century problem, and one scientist is taking a 21st-century approach in the hunt for alternative treatments.
Martin Nielsen, DVM, PhD, DipEVPC, an equine parasitologist and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center, has turned to online crowdfunding to raise money for tests of a promising new control method. It’s the first such crowdfunding project at UK and possibly, the school says, in the field of veterinary science.
Dr. Nielsen launched his crowdfunding campaign, called “Let the germs get the worms: Testing a novel probiotic compound for treatment of equine parasites,” at the website http://equineparasitology.ca.uky.edu/. As with other crowdfunding efforts, the idea is to reach out to the general public and draw small donations from many people. Visitors to the site can sign up for more information on the project, access videos and educational information and enter a forum to ask Dr. Nielsen questions about parasite control. “They can sign up without donating,” Dr. Nielsen says. “Also, they can donate without signing up.”
The compound Dr. Nielsen is investigating is a crystal protein produced by Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria, which are widely found in nature. The bacteria are used in natural pest controls, including the “dunks” floated in ponds to kill mosquito larvae without harming fish. Scientists at the University of California have found that certain crystal proteins produced by these bacteria can kill intestinal worms without harming mammals, and researchers there and elsewhere are investigating their use in laboratory and other animals.
Dr. Nielsen plans to explore the effect of the bacterial protein against important horse parasites. The crowdfunding project set a goal of raising $30,000 by March 10 to help finance the first step: collecting parasites from horses in a research herd and testing in the laboratory. “We will test for the presence of receptors for the bacterial protein and test the effect against different horse parasites under laboratory conditions,” Dr. Nielsen says. He hopes to use the results to apply for a larger grant for testing the protein in horses.
Initial response to the crowdfunding project was strong, Dr. Nielsen reports. “Lots of great questions have been posted on the site,“ he adds, and interaction with visitors is valuable. “A good question can inspire us to set up the next research project.”