UF tapped to help keep horse racing clean

The University of Florida will study the effects and how to detect a new form of local anesthetic in race horses.

While a planned University of Florida research study of a local anesthetic will explore how to effectively stop its misuse in horse racing, the research may prove useful in establishing therapeutic uses for the new formulation of bupivacaine.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium commissioned the study in an effort to set standards for testing and identification of the drug to protect against cheating in pari-mutuel racing. The consortium works to develop and promote uniform rules and testing standards at all tracks in the U.S.

While bupivacaine is not new and already carries sanctions if found in post-race samples, the study will explore a new slow-release form of the drug and how racehorses process the medication, said Dr. Cynthia Cole, director of the University of Florida Racing Laboratory.

The racing lab, which is part of the study along with the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, is the official testing laboratory for post-race samples taken from horses at the state’s pari-mutuel wagering tracks.

“We just need to make sure that we can detect this new formulation in very small concentrations,” Cole said. “We need to see what those levels look like and how to identify them.”

Bupivacaine is a nerve-blocking anesthetic that lasts several hours. Its use in horses is for pain in post-operative settings and other therapeutic uses, but its pain masking properties are so good that it eventually made its way on the track to keep lame horses running.

The new formulation, officially liposomal bupivacaine, can offer pain relief for up to three days. The medicine is inside tiny spheres of what is essentially fat. The medicine gets released as the fat breaks down in the body. Right now, the new formulation is only for use in humans and cats and dogs, but the study could help in approval for use in horses.

Dr. Taralyn McCarrel, a professor of surgery at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the study’s principal investigator, will oversee the research into how the medication works in racehorses. Part of that research will use special shoes to simulate lameness in horses from the UF herd.

“It’s similar to having a pebble in your shoe to approximate lameness,” McCarrel said.

The shoes will only stay on while collecting data and they do not cause long-term issues.

McCarrel said the new formulation may be useful in certain post-operative cases or to treat other issues. Horses can develop foot issues, some potentially fatal if they favor one foot and put more weight on the others.

“There is very little information on how the formulation behaves in horses,” Cole said.

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