Gene therapy on the agenda for International Stud Book Committee
Stud book caps were also discussed at recent conference
Gene therapy came under the microscope at the recent two-day International Stud Book Committee annual conference in Newmarket, and the pressing question was how the relevant authorities should distinguish between 'good' and 'bad' practices.
ISBC vice-chairman Simon Cooper, who presented a conference report to the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities’ executive council in Paris this week, explained: "We have been working with the IFHA in tackling the control and recording of gene editing, particularly the prohibition of all genetic therapy, including the use of gene editing agents, and looking at whether any exemptions are established to allow genetic therapies.
"Two articles in the IFHA’s international agreement for breeding, racing and wagering capture current provisions for ’disqualification‘ or exclusion from thoroughbred stud books due to modification of the heritable genome, but the ISBC is considering how to refine these.”
Cooper, a director of Weatherbys General Stud Book, added: “The ISBC conference heard an excellent presentation on the subject from Dr Madeleine Campbell, lecturer in human-animal interactions and ethics at the Royal Veterinary College and a specialist in equine reproduction.
"Afterwards we considered how stud book authorities could determine how ‘good’ genetic therapy treatment for disabling disorders in racehorses, such as diseases and musculoskeletal disorders, are distinguished from ‘bad’ gene manipulation, such as genetic editing for reasons of enhancement rather than cure, and who should decide which disorders could be corrected and which constitute gene doping.
"The distinction is at odds with sections of the ISBC’s requirements and guidelines, as well as the IFHA’s international agreement where any form of genetic editing is prohibited.
"Our advice is that stud book authorities should carefully evaluate existing rules, regulations and statutes governing genetic manipulation of animals within their respective countries, as they develop policies and stud book rules to address threats posed by this technology.
"In addition, based particularly upon Dr Campbell’s presentation, they are advised to take special note of ethical considerations."
Conference discussions also noted the US Jockey Club’s recently announced proposal to cap the number of mares covered by stallions at 140 a year.
Cooper said: "If the US wants to impose a limit, that’s up to their stud book authority; it’s not something with which the ISBC can interfere. However, the ISBC does continue to monitor the loss of genetic diversity that attends closed stud books, such as those for thoroughbreds, and we will be exploring an independent, international, collaborative study to see what the global position is.”
The number of stud books approved by the ISBC increased to 68 with the addition of Kuwait, and that figure could soon be extended, with Pakistan expected to receive approved status next year and Thailand, Antigua, St Lucia, Panama and Ukraine at various stages of assessment.
By contrast, the position of China remains under scrutiny, with the ISBC conference report noting: "The Asian Stud Book Committee again expressed concerns with the situation in China."
It added: "Registrations are being completed by the China Stud Book in accordance with the ISBC’s requirements and guidelines. However, the case remains that many imported thoroughbreds are not registered, many without export certificates, and unregistered thoroughbreds have had their IDs altered."