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Technology like K-State's MRI, CT, rarely seen at vet med teaching hospitals

By Michelle Hall


When radiologists at Kansas State University's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital need to check out a mass in an animal's abdomen, a lesion in the brain or blockage in the chest, they have a bevy of options to choose from to accomplish the task.

That's in part thanks to a new $1 million renovation and acquisition of technology to the hospital's radiology department, which brought magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, for small animals and computed tomography, CT, for small animals and horses, to K-State. This advanced equipment is rarely seen in veterinary teaching hospitals and rarely available for large animals, said Dr. James Hoskinson, associate professor of clinical sciences.

"Only four or five schools in the country now have both CT and MRI on site," he said. "Most only have one or the other, or have to use equipment off site. We are quite fortunately positioned with a state-of-the-art CT scanner and a solid low-field magnet with current software. CT and MRI are necessary tools for the future of diagnostic imaging."

"Computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging capabilities in-house will have a profound positive impact on patient care," said Dr. Roger Fingland, director of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. "We have purchased some of the most technologically advanced equipment available. "

Three rooms were renovated within the hospital to accommodate both pieces of highly technical, complex equipment. Each machine is housed in an individual room and operated from a central control room. The MRI room has undergone various changes to accommodate the imaging technique procedures, including copper-shielded walls, doors and windows to isolate the MRI from radio frequency interference; the floors also have been reinforced. MRI technology utilizes a 35,000-pound magnet.

photo of CT scannerThe CT scanner, shown at left from the control room, is used to assimilate multiple X-ray images into a two-dimensional, cross-sectional image and is particularly useful for examining complex bony structures such as the skull, spine or joints. MRI scans use radio-frequency energy to excite molecules in the animal, similar to that which a radio or TV station emits. The signal changes can differentiate normal from abnormal tissues, such as those affected by cancer, infection or trauma. The MRI is typically used to examine internal structures of the body, particularly the soft tissues of the brain, spinal cord, joints and abdomen. Both MRI and CT are excellent for assessing blood flow to an organ or region. CT scans take seconds to minutes while MRIs take about an hour.

Hoskinson said the new equipment has proven tremendously useful to radiologists at the hospital.

"The biggest change is in assessing complex anatomy and seeing structures in areas where visibility is limited with conventional radiographs (X-rays)," he said. "For example, in the skull and nasal cavity we rely exclusively on CT. The equipment is also far more sensitive to small changes in density of tissues, making disease much easier to see." The CT scanner allows the radiologists to detect pulmonary nodules earlier in animals with cancer that has spread to their lungs.

"Animals with nodules may be treated differently than other patients because their prognosis is worse," Hoskinson said. "Finding the nodules may spare them a needless surgery or expensive course of chemotherapy."

Photo of MRIMRI, in turn, is useful for brain tumors and any other kind of brain lesion, including infection, which were difficult to diagnose previously, Hoskinson said. The hospital's MRI is shown in use below.

Although the MRI and CT scanner have been extremely useful to the radiologists at K-State, they have not completely outdated the other equipment these doctors have available. Ultrasound, for example, is useful for characterizing soft tissues, especially in the abdomen and heart, Hoskinson said.

"It gives real-time, moving pictures of anatomy," he said. "It can provide information about both the anatomy and physiology of tissues and is also useful for guiding biopsies." Nuclear medicine, in turn, can diagnose physiologic abnormalities such as hyper-functioning thyroid disease or bone remodeling, Hoskinson added.

"CT and MRI have replaced some of the testing we previously did with radiology, nuclear medicine and ultrasound. In other areas, they are complementary in the information they provide. And in some areas they provide information we could not get without the CT or MR study," he said.

Fingland said they are currently trying to acquire an additional radiology resource -- a standing MRI for horses that would be one of only two or three in the United States.

Spring 2003