Udeni Balasuriya, BVSc, MS, PhD, a professor at the University of Kentucky (UK) Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, recently received $2.9 million to identify the genetic factors responsible for establishment of the equine arteritis virus (EAV) carrier state in stallions. The five-year grant was awarded by the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

According to Nancy Cox, MS, PhD, associate dean for research in UK’s College of Agriculture and administrative leader for UK’s Ag Equine Programs, Balasuriya’s grant was ranked the highest in its category, unusual for a USDA grant program that normally targets food animals.

This is one of the largest grants awarded in the College of Agriculture in the last year, she said, and is unique in that it includes funds for getting results out to the public in the fastest, most efficient way.

Equine viral arteritis (EVA) outbreaks result in significant economic losses to the equine industry due to high rates of foal loss in pregnant mares, death in young foals, and establishment of the carrier state in stallions. The virus remains in the equine population between breeding seasons by persisting in carrier stallions.

The project stems from research by a graduate student, Yun Young Go, who worked in Balasuriya’s Gluck Center laboratory. Her initial focus involved characterizing the EAV target cell population(s) in equine white blood cells. White blood cells are important because they eliminate cells attacked by the virus.

According to Balasuriya, the study demonstrated that EAV could infect isolated cultured white blood cells in the lab.