I'm posting my column for April a little early because, while the project I describe here is ongoing, the researcher has set a milestone deadline for today.


What do an independent film based on a memoir, a new studio album from a popular ’90s band, and an equine parasite research study have in common? More than you might think: a notably creative person at the helm and a plea to the masses for financial support. This type of appeal is called crowdfunding. The project leaders cast a vision for the outcome and emphasized that even $5 here or $20 there would help see the project to fruition.

Dr. Martin Nielsen 

Photo: Courtesy University of Kentucky

The first two campaigns—the movie based on best-selling Blue Like Jazz and an album from Toad the Wet Sprocket—reached their funding goals and, in the end, I suspect the investors felt they really played a part in the effort. (I know when I was able to see my name in the credits of the film, I did.)

 

The third project is still in progress, which is where the worms come in. I think the effort is genius, because while crowdfunding at sites such as Kickstarter is popular for raising funds for the arts, or for supporting athletes as they run for a cause, using it to solve mysteries of veterinary science is another story.

Martin Nielsen, DVM, PhD, a researcher at the University of Kentucky, along with collaborators at the University of California, San Diego, hopes to examine how a particular bacterium harmless to horses—but lethal to worms—might solve the problem of Parascaris equorum, or large roundworms that can cause severe colic in foals and weanlings. Widespread permanent parasite resistance to existing dewormers has Nielsen and other parasitologists concerned about where horse owners will turn as resistance expands.  

There are many “magic bullet” claims out there for natural anthelmintics, and Nielsen admits he’s been skeptical about most, but he’s gotten fired up about this particular possibility for worm control— an initial investigation revealed this probiotic approach is more than 95% successful in killing P. equorum in horses.

Nielsen notes in one of his crowdfunding videos that it’s notoriously difficult to fund equine research—due to few funding agencies and lots of competition for money. Add that to the fact that horses aren’t a production animal, and the possibilities for funding narrow even further.

Nielsen aimed high: He hopes to raise $30,000 and has met his first milestone, $5,000. The crowdfunding average for scientific research (not veterinary) is around $1,000, and he’s optimistic he’ll raise a few thousand more. Whatever the outcome, he says, “I have built good and lasting relationships with horse people interested in what I do. That is very valuable.”

Will we ever see a movie about worm-hungry bacteria on the silver screen? Likely not (I’d advise against it!), but we might see research results that could further change how we manage parasites in our horses, even beyond what we’ve seen in the past decade with selective deworming. I hope the project is funded (you can learn more at TheHorse.com/33168) and, if it is, seeing what the outcomes are.