by Lindsay Key
s the equine herpes virus-1 spreads, fever, depression, watery nose, loss of appetite and swollen legs and abdomen are the first symptoms to appear. Some horses experience incontinence and the inability to stand. Pregnant mares are very susceptible to the virus, which can easily invade the sensitive endometrium surrounding a fetus and deprive the unborn foal of oxygen resulting in a stillbirth or weak foal that dies within days of birth.
Spread by direct contact with nasal secretions of infected horses through shared feed, water, buckets, blankets, tack and equipment or from the hands, boots or clothes of handlers, the virus is triggered continually for the rest of the horse’s life. Recurrences strike most commonly when the horse has a compromised immune system or is stressed by excessive heat, a long transport to race or show, or new stable or pasture mates.
With the number of cases increasing dramatically in recent years and the racing industry holding its breath, scientists are working to develop a stronger, longer-lasting, anti-viral drug.
University of North Carolina Wilmington virologist Art Frampton’s approach is novel and two fold:
1. provide appropriate surveillance measures to detect an outbreak of EHV-1 in a horse stable or farm, and,
2. if EHV-1 is confirmed, administer an algae-based anti-viral drug to limit the spread of the virus.
According to Wright, this novel compound is produced by a photosynthetic dinoflagellate, a type of marine microalgae. Though some dinoflagellate species are toxic, other types produce non-toxic compounds, which may be beneficial for treating disease.
In developing their research, Frampton and his laboratory team have a superior advantage at UNCW. At their fingertips are unique compounds from marine microalgae and cyanobacteria, isolated and purified by UNCW Center for Marine Science (CMS) chemists. Available to all UNCW faculty and members of the outside scientific community through collaborative studies and interactions, this collection contains thousands of compounds isolated from photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic marine organisms.
“What we have here is a library of organisms that have never been examined by anybody in detail in terms of chemical constituents and their biological properties,” says Carl B. Brown Distinguished Professor of Marine Science Jeffrey Wright, a bioorganic chemist at CMS.
Thanks to this one-of-a-kind collaboration and resource opportunity, Frampton received 480 chemical fractions – compound mixtures – from CMS researchers that he and his undergraduate students tested for their potential effectiveness in blocking the life cycle of EHV-1. Of these, one was found to be the best compound because it blocks virus replication while remaining non-toxic to the cell.
Frampton and his students will continue to study this compound on a basic cellular level to determine how it blocks the virus. Currently funded by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Frampton is seeking further funding to expand his EHV-1 study into the realm of cancer research.