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Equine Pharmacology Laboratory

Equine Pharmacology at New Bolton CenterIn 2006, Dr. Lawrence R. Soma, VMD, and professor of Large Animal Medicine at New Bolton Center, and Dr. Cornelius E. Uboh, director of the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory (PETRL) in West Chester, PA, and their respective teams at Penn Vet and PETRL became the first research group in the world to develop and establish a method for confirming blood-doping agents in racehorse serum.

Previously only the antibodies caused by the drug, not the drug itself, were detectable in the blood. Used in human and small animal veterinary medicine to treat conditions that produce anemia such as cancer and renal disease, erythropoetin (EPO) is a natural hormone protein produced in the kidneys that stimulates red blood cell production. Recombinant human eythropoietin (rhEPO) and darbepoetin-alfa (DPO) are genetically engineered versions of EPO.

The Penn Vet Equine Pharmacology Laboratory is the legacy of Dr. Lawrence R. Soma, Professor Emeritus Marilyn M. Simpson Professor of Anesthesia & Clinical Pharmacology. Dr. Soma pioneered the field of veterinary anesthesia, and his textbook, Textbook of Veterinary Anesthesia, is internationally renown.  In 1979, Dr. Soma took the opportunity to switch gears and began performing pharmacological research for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Horse and Harness Racing Commissions.  The first study conducted was on the still commonly used NSAID, phenylbutazone.

Since that first study, Dr. Soma maintained and grew the laboratory, while simultaneously providing consultative service to policy makers and enforcers, veterinarians, and horsemen on therapeutic and non-therapeutic drug use in race horses.  He has authored or co-authored 124 peer-reviewed original research articles, and has served on numerous committees to discuss the evidence-based use of medications in horse-racing.

In July 2013, Dr. Soma elected to retire, however, as an emeritus professor he maintains a 20  percent workload and remains an invaluable resource for Dr. Mary A. Robinson, a recent Penn VMSTP graduate, who is now co-director of the laboratory as well as the acting director of the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory (PETRL).

The Penn Vet Equine Pharmacology Laboratory works closely with the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory (PETRL), which performs equine drug testing for racetracks in the Commonwealth. Dr. Mary Robinson is its acting director.

The PETRL group has developed methods to quantitate a large number of drugs in horse blood or urine, and drug analyses performed at PETRL total more than 40,000 samples per year.  PETRL continues to develop novel methods for screening, confirming, and quantifying the presence of illegal drugs in race horse plasma or urine samples.

Research in equine pharmacology is performed at New Bolton Center, also the site of Penn Vet’s large animal hospital.  The Equine Pharmacology Laboratory’s close proximity to the hospital promotes collaborative research with Penn Vet’s clinical scientists and residents.  Studies are performed to optimize clinical therapy for diseases commonly affecting race horses, and to determine the length of time needed following treatment before the horse can safely and ethically return to racing.  The identification of biomarkers to monitor disease progression, and the effects of drug treatment on biomarkers, are also being pursued.

Because of the strong longstanding support from the PA Racing Commissions, the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen Association, the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, the Pennsylvania Horsemen Benevolent and Protective Association, and the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen Association, the Penn Vet/PETRL group has been able to provide leadership in drug testing research.

The Penn Vet-PETRL mission is to provide accurate information to policy makers and enforcers, veterinarians, and horsemen on therapeutic and non-therapeutic drug use in race horses to help ensure the integrity of the sport, and more importantly the welfare of the horse during those intense and exciting two minutes of competition.