Liverpool vets to treat Amersham rescue horse

Veterinary scientists at the University of Liverpool will provide life-saving treatment for a five-year old horse rescued from squalid conditions at Spindle Farm in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.

‘Duke’ was one of more than 100 horses that were rescued from the farm in 2008 after a member of the public alerted the RSPCA to the living conditions at the premises.  Officers found 28 dead horses and 84 others that were severely malnourished. Duke has since been recovering at the Horse Trust’s Home of Rest for Horses, but recently developed tumours on his eyelids that required immediate treatment.

The tumours, called sarcoids, are similar to skin cancers and are a common problem in horses causing extreme irritation and painful swellings. Duke will receive iridium wire treatment at the University’s Equine Hospital – the only centre in the UK to deliver the complex procedure.

Professor Derek Knottenbelt, from the Equine Hospital, explains: “Removing tumours surgically from the eyelids would be almost impossible because the scar tissue would leave the horse unable to blink.  Instead we kill the diseased cells from within using iridium radiation treatment, where gamma radiation is delivered through wires inserted into the tumour.  Although sarcoids don’t spread to internal organs like many other cancerous tumours, they can be severely debilitating and so it is important that they are treated quickly to ensure long-lasting recovery.”

The procedure was first pioneered at the University in the 1970s by Dr Geraint Wyn-Jones and Professor Barrie Edwards and since then horses have arrived at the hospital from all over the world to be treated for the disease.

Professor Knottenbelt added: “The treatment will be delivered over a period of ten days, during which we aim to eradicate the diseased cells to allow new healthy cells to grow in their place.  The condition is very unpredictable, but we hope that Duke will make a good recovery.”

Duke will be treated at the University at no cost and will remain with the veterinary team for two weeks whilst he recovers from the procedure.

Members of the media are invited to interview Professor Knottenbelt and photograph/film Duke at the University’s Equine Hospital on Tuesday, 10 August. Professor Knottenbelt will demonstrate the procedure and answer questions about the condition.

Notes to editors:

1.  The University of Liverpool aims to raise £6 million to develop a Colic Prevention and Performance Centre.  Colic is a term used to describe the behavioural signs associated with abdominal pain that arises from distention of the intestine. The condition is the single most common cause of the death in horses.  The new Centre will include an intensive care facility, an isolation unit and a refurbished colic operating theatre.  The hospital has an international reputation for excellence in equine colic research and the Centre will act as a focus for colic data collection and analysis.

To support the fundraising campaign please contact the University’s Development Office on 0151 794 6987 or email

2. The University of Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £98 million annually.

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