PennVet Shares a Major Breakthrough in Equine IVF – Horse Racing News


Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine have discovered a method of in vitro fertilization in horses, resulting in the birth of three healthy foals.

Assisted reproduction in horses is often the method of choice for a variety of reasons, including to avoid injury to the mare during breeding. Prior to this breakthrough, traditional in vitro fertilization (IVF), where a sperm cell fertilizes an egg in a petri dish, had been attempted for horses but was unsuccessful, despite repeated attempts at manipulation.

Dr. Katrin Hinrichs, Professor of Reproduction at PennVet, and her colleagues created a conventional IVF technique that resulted in a 90% fertilization rate, with 74% of fertilized eggs yielding blastocytes – a mass of cells that grow in the embryo and placenta.

The techniques don’t require extensive training or equipment, Hinrichs says, so more veterinary practices may be able to offer the service.

In the past, other assisted reproductive technologies have been used with little success. These include injecting a single sperm into an egg and extracting an oocyte from a mare, surgically placing it in a recipient mare, and then inseminating the recipient mare. Use of the recipient mare was invasive and costly; the technique was not feasible for many mare owners or veterinarians.

The key research for this breakthrough was done by Dr. Matheus Felix, now the chief embryologist at the Penn Equine Assisted Reproduction Laboratory. Sperm must undergo physiological changes to fertilize an egg. Felix tried a specific medium to incubate the sperm with and a longer than normal incubation period to see if it could help the sperm fertilize the egg – and it worked.

The research team perfected the technique, finding that pre-incubation of sperm for 22 hours in the specific medium, then adding oocytes to the medium for three hours, resulted in 74% blastocyst production. So far, three foals have been born from this process.

There’s still room for improvement, Hinrichs notes, saying this method only worked well for fresh semen; frozen semen did not have the same results. In addition, the medium must be precise, so variations can compromise the success of fertilization.

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