April 6, 2018

Vet Med PhD student earns prestigious equine research award

A passion for horses and problem-solving drives Stephanie Bond's work

Two things inspired Stephanie Bond to become an equine researcher: a desire to improve the health of horses, and her innate curiosity to "figure out how things work."

Those two factors led a 12-year-old thrilled to help a veterinarian on her family’s farm in Australia to her present-day career. Bond, who earned a veterinary degree in 2013, is working on her PhD at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM), supervised by Dr. Renaud Léguillette, associate professor and Calgary Chair in Equine Sports Medicine.

And Bond’s dual passions have earned her the prestigious 2018 Storm Cat Career Development Award. The award, from the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation in Lexington, Kentucky, is designed as "an early boost to an individual considering a career in equine research."  It’s named after retired champion Thoroughbred stallion Storm Cat.

Stephanie Bond with her PhD supervisor, Dr. Renaud Léguillette, researching respiratory function in racehorses.

Stephanie Bond, with her PhD supervisor, researching respiratory function in racehorses.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Bond researches a breathing condition affecting more than half of the horse population

“The research which led to this award is focused on inflammatory airway disease, or mild equine asthma,” says Bond. “It’s a disease of the lower respiratory tract and affects up to 66 per cent of the equine population.”

While the cause of the disease isn’t fully understood, it’s thought to share similarities with a more serious form of the disease known as recurrent airway obstruction, or heaves. Bond is investigating the cause of mild equine asthma, the impact it has on a horse’s performance and the effectiveness of common treatments.

“We’re looking at the inflammatory responses that develop in horses with both acute and chronic airway inflammation, and measuring how they are modified in response to treatment,” explains Bond. “We also investigated the effect of dexamethasone on bacteria in the lower respiratory tract and found there was a clear treatment effect. This research may assist in the development of novel targeted treatments for mild equine asthma.”

Involving the equine community in research

Bond feels fortunate to have the opportunity to be mentored by Léguillette and to work with the local horse community; particularly a community offering a range of horse disciplines not seen in many other places — from polo ponies, high-level dressage horses and show jumping at Spruce Meadows to Quarter Horse and Standardbred racing and the Calgary Stampede events. 

“It’s nice because UCVM‘s mission is to get out there and involve the community in the research that we’re doing,” she says. “That fits well with the way I see my career going, having contact with horses and the community and being able to ask relevant questions that have direct clinical significance.”

For Bond, studies aimed at finding health solutions or new treatments offer the best of both worlds as an equine veterinarian and a researcher.

“As much as it’s really rewarding to work day-to-day with these beautiful animals, translational research allows you to have contact with the animals and their owners and make more of difference in the long run. The balance is really nice.”