During the last year, two leading forces in the international world of thoroughbred racing and equine health have donated a total of $1.14 million to Colorado State University Professor Gordon Woods' laboratory to support his research using the horse as a model for understanding human cancer and other age-onset diseases.
Jess Jackson - majority owner of Curlin, 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year - contributed $1 million to Dr. Woods' research in February 2008. Working with Jackson, the Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, founded by Dr. Bill Rood and Dr. Tom Riddle in Lexington, Ky., in 1986, contributed $140,000 in January to Dr. Woods research program. The $1 million gift from Jackson was formally announced by the donor in August 2008.
"These gifts demonstrate the strong generosity of spirit and commitment to excellence that both Mr. Jackson and Drs. Rood and Riddle bring to their own work and involvement in the equine industry," said Dr. Woods. "Their investment in this program will help take our research to the next important level in terms of understanding the biochemical causes of subfertility in stallions and cancer in humans."
Dr. Woods' laboratory is in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Woods is the Alexander Professor in Equine Reproduction in the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory and Equine Reproduction Laboratory.
"My family and I are proud to support Dr. Woods in his research," said Jackson, who with his wife, Barbara Banke, created the Jackson Curlin for Kids Fund to make a difference in the lives of children where their horse Curlin runs or trains. "Dr. Woods and his team have produced some very exciting results. We need this type of unfiltered, pure research that hopefully will lead to containment and cures of cancer and other catastrophic diseases."
Specifically, Dr. Woods' team is conducting research on chemistry at the cellular level to help explain why horses enjoy such a low rate of metastatic cancer and other age-onset diseases, such as diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, in comparison to humans. The mortality rate for horses with metastatic cancer is 8 percent and 0 percent for prostate cancer. By comparison, the mortality rate in humans is about 24 percent, of which 13 to 14 percent is for prostate cancer.
In looking at the reasons behind that difference, the Woods laboratory honed in on calcium as a regulator of cell activity. It is well established that low calcium within the cell slows cell activity and high levels of calcium within the cell speeds cell activity. The Woods team was the first to determine, however, that equines have a low, intracellular calcium level and is currently studying how to use that as a way to increase their fertility. Studies have shown that humans with age-onset diseases have a higher level of intracellular calcium.
"It is important for us to give back to a profession that has given so much to us. We're thrilled that we can not only help horses, but potentially advance human medicine," said Bill Rood, veterinarian and co-founder of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital.
Next steps for Dr. Woods' team include studying the impact of increased intracellular calcium on horse fertility and, in the long term, studying the effect of reduced intracellular calcium in humans with age-onset diseases.