Once in a lifetime
George was a once in a lifetime horse. He was everything Marija could want. I believe, working with Marija and George for the last 8 years, the trajectory of both lives changed when they met. We can't remember the story of their early time together; it was quite some time after George and Marija became a team that we met them. And they enhanced our lives from that moment on.
The early years of SAG 1, 5, 6
In 2002 Bayer Animal Health asked us to create a model of disease and a diagnostic test to help them with their drug development. To help us, Bayer sent out kits, two red top tubes in a metal cylinder and a postage paid, return mail envelope. The idea was to compare our experimental results with field cases. The accession number started at 1.
By 2011 we were running our SAG 1, 5, 6 tests for veterinarians that needed help understanding EPM, sarcocystosis, and diseases that looked like EPM. By 2012, number 1000, we were using c-reactive protein, an acute phase innate response, as a measure of inflammation. Early disease modeling taught us that inflammation accompanied S. neurona infections. Inflammatory reactions were apparent when we gave recombinant SAG 1 to horses, the horses didn't have infection or EPM, they had a measurable response to a parasite protein.
In fact, experimentally challenged study horses that were treated with an antiprotozoal drug showed more inflammation, and worse clinical signs, than challenged untreated controls.
Even when we treated the horses for 100 days before we challenged them they responded with clinical signs of inflammation. This was useful information for experiments and useful when interpreting post-mortem histopathology, but difficult to understand when interpreting test results from field cases. Seventy-five experimentally challenged horses and accession number over 3000 by the end of 2012, we began to understand.
Horse 653 taught us that vaccinations can cause signs that look like EPM. He confounded the best universities had to offer. By horse 2668, we knew that 3% of horses have a reaction to cells used in vaccine production and we knew how to mitigate those reactions.
C reactive protein and myelin protein antibodies
We met Team George in the spring of 2014 by a sample submission, 7544. That was just one month after we began routinely testing suspect PNE horses for anti-myelin protein antibodies. We were still learning. If a horse fit our criteria, our algorithm, our suspicions were high, we would run extra tests to figure things out.
We tended not to charge for the extra testing, we'd report the tests and explain to the veterinarians and owners so they could understand our work. Once Marija understood our approach, she paid for every test, on every checkup. She was not only helping George, but she was doing it to help our research. She understood that horses would be helped going forward as we unraveled the disease processes.
George was negative on our SAG testing. He didn't have EPM, yet he had clinical signs that prevented him for performing. We designed a treatment protocol for his veterinarian and in the ensuing few years, he did well. When we asked, Marija would send us a blood sample. We would provide guidance, and she would call with the responses she would see.
George taught us that an increasing CRP over time was a red flag for disease. His CRP value doubled in a year, and over several years, increased by six times. When his values went up, we knew that he was having trouble, something Marija knew before it was apparent on clinical exam.
7544 to 36,124
When the phone would ring and the voice on the end of the line said: "I'm calling about George", everyone in the lab instantly pictured that big chestnut horse and knew that Marija was going to alter her life, because he was relapsing. She'd sleep in the stall beside him. Changed her job so she could get closer to him when he needed her.
There are other horses that are special, and George rekindles their memories. They paved the way for George. Blue Eyed Playboy (653), Tattoo (99), Bay State Nestle (1871), Eli (1822), Lily (761). Jazzy (7115). And Wizard (5863), what a horse he was! And Chicago (3897).
What is special to us about George is the long history, excellent documentation and multiple submissions. Sacrifices by Marija. The multiple samples allowed us to analyze together the changes in antibodies and clinical signs. We learned about relationships between our biomarkers and signs allowing us to investigate similarities in other submissions. When he'd stumble, seizure, develop stringhalt or muscle atrophy, we'd get a call and a blood sample. There was a period when he had difficulty swallowing. And when he would get better Marija would always call or email. We'd all rejoice.
We've never met Marija in person. But we know her voice. And we know her heart. Rest in peace, George. You were special.