UCL News


Sweet Itch Trials

2 February 2006

To alleviate the distress of Sweet-itch there is a need for an intervention that will remove the excessive reaction to the bites of Culicoides midges.

For the last two years a team from University College London (UCL) has been working on this problem in collaboration with the Sweet Itch Centre near Wrexham and with other centres. A series of small studies were initiated with vulnerable horses, testing a range of reagents aiming to regulate the reaction of the immune system to the midge bites. This work has been followed keenly by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) who have now given their approval for a large trial...

The reaction to the bites of the midges is orchestrated by the immune system and in 95 per cent of horses this response is accomplished successfully and without a problem. In an unfortunate 5 per cent, the immune system overreacts. … The team from UCL have endeavoured to return the horse's immune system to its prime function of recognising, regulating and responding to assault, thereby maintaining the health of the horse.

By the use of killed bacterial reagents… this can be achieved. Experience in humans and now in horses has taught us that even in difficult-to-treat allergic reactions repeated doses can be extremely successful. Animals with a short history of disease may be more easily and swiftly treated.

During the first year of research the most effective of these bacterial immuno-modulators was identified. In the second year it was established that the 25 per cent or more of horses received excellent benefit and 50 per cent of animals showed a measurable improvement in their symptoms. During the third year of research, and with an improved and more intensive protocol, an increased benefit for the great majority of horses with sweet-itch is envisaged.

The use of immuno-regulatory preparations in human and veterinary medicine is being viewed by authorities as the treatment of the future. Already in human medicine in the treatment of chronic infections allergies and cancer, the pioneering work is gaining acceptance, saving lives and alleviating chronic disease. …
In order to forward this work in human and veterinary medicine, a small company has been set up within University College London…

Anna Tyzack, 'Horse and Hound' 1 February 2006