Nikki Walshe Awarded Veterinary Council of Ireland Research Grant

Dr Nikki Walshe is an Assistant Professor in Equine Clinical Studies, with her work focused on the UCDVH Equine Field Service and also on teaching students as part of the Equine Clinical Studies rotation.  Nikki qualified from UCD in 2011, before heading down to the southern hemisphere where she worked in several different areas of the equine veterinary industry for 4 years.  After that, she returned home to Limerick to work in equine practice here in Ireland.  Nikki has been working in UCD for over a year now, and has recently started a thematic PhD in Infection Biology, investigating the immune and microbiome response to anthelmintic treatment of cyathostomes.  Nikki’s project, which is detailed below, has recently been awarded a research grant from the Veterinary Council of Ireland; the project is entitled Better Treatment Options for Horses at Risk from Acute Larval Cyathostominosis. 

Cyathostomins (small red worms) are the most prevalent equine parasites; all horses with access to grazing are infected to some extent. Ingested larvae migrate into the mucosa of the large intestine, and may remain dormant there for months to years until resuming development and emerging into the gut lumen.  The factors influencing dormancy and redevelopment of cyathostomin larvae are not completely understood. Removal of adult worms by anthelmintics is known to be one factor involved in synchronous emergence of larvae from the mucosa, and a severe acute inflammatory syndrome, involving colitis and protein-losing enteropathy (acute larval cyathostominosis), which is fatal in 50% of affected individuals; anthelmintic treatment of horses harbouring pathogenic adult burdens, but also dormant larvae, must be undertaken with extreme caution.

Central to Nikki’s project is the hypothesis that the development of colitis could be influenced by alterations in the gut microbiota, or by a loss of the immuno-regulatory effects (Immunoregulatory Brake) of adult helminths in the large intestine, as well as choice of anthelmintic.  Nikki’s study aims to provide information that will help design improved control measures and prevent post-worming colitis in horses, and will also investigate factors underlying colonic dysbiosis/dysfunction, and the potential modulating effects of helminth infections.