‘Let the Germs Get the Worms’: Q&A with Dr. Martin Nielsen
As I was perusing the internet last weekend, I came across an article about an upcoming and very different type of equine parasite study. Of course, my little ears perked up because I’m always on the lookout for new research related to more natural means of horse health, and I also have a special interest in deworming. I then saw that the researchers are in need of public support in order to fund this study –so I knew I needed to interview the man spearheading this research–Parisitologist and Veterinarian Dr. Martin Nielsen! You can learn more about this critical study as well as how you can help through the questions and answers below. Please share this Q&A with as many horse friends as you can in order to help get the word out!
Can you tell us a little bit about the study that you plan to do and how the idea came about?
Colleagues at University of California are working with this naturally occurring bacterium that secretes a certain protein capable of killing worms. They reached out to me because they wanted to test it against parasites with high levels of resistance to dewormers. We expect to develop a probiotic formulation with this bacterium, which can be fed to the horse. For this study, we are raising funding to do the initial studies with equine parasites under laboratory conditions. Feeding probiotics to actual horses will be the next step down the road.
What are the possible implications of a study like this for the horse world?
There are only three drug classes on the market for equine roundworm control, and equine parasites have developed resistance to all three – and this has been documented all over the world. There are no new drug classes expected in a foreseeable future. The most recent addition was in the early 1980s. We need alternative treatment modalities to maintain a healthy balance between horses and their parasites.
In your opinion, how imperative is it that we conduct research on alternative methods of controlling/ eliminating parasites in horses?
Absolutely! See my answer above. We want to avoid the scenario we already have in the goat industry: animals suffering from parasitic disease with no active drugs available for treatment.
As of right now, what do you believe is the biggest problem with using the current chemical dewormers on the market?
They have been overused for years, and people are still using them without even checking for resistance. A lot of horse owners may live on a false sense of security believing that they are providing effective parasite control. Parasite burdens are likely to accumulate in horses if treatments are not working.
I understand that you are using a new concept known as ‘crowdfunding’ in order to conduct this study—can you explain what that means and why you’re using it?
Yes, I heard about it on NPR one morning, and decided to try it out. Crowdfunding is widely used for many different purposes. People are raising money for equity and business investments or artists are asking for money for their next book or album. The project gets posted online with an option for online donations. The concept is to get as big a crowd as possible to contribute small donations. If the crowd is big enough, substantial amounts of money can be raised.
Barack Obama used this approach to raise funding for his election campaign and he was highly successful. The program on NPR was about scientists making use of crowdfunding platforms to raise money for their research. I thought I would have a good chance of making an appealing case to horse owners across the world. They all deal with parasite control in some form or fashion, and they all appreciate the importance of drug resistance and the necessity of effective parasite control. With help from equine media, I figured I would have a good chance to get my message out.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes, we have raised over $2,500 and are fast approaching our first funding milestone, which is $5,000. Our page has been shared on Facebook well over 100 times, and our videos have been viewed over 1000 times. We have an active questions forum on the site, where people can ask questions about parasite control, and lots of good questions have been posted. Each question will be answered personally by myself. It is free to sign up and gain access to the questions forum, but donations can also be made without signing up.
The fundraising deadline is March 10.
To learn more and to help with this very important study, please go to this website.
I will be making a donation and I hope you will consider making one too!