Ro­botic scan for horses could hold prom­ise for hu­man health

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER - By Kathy Mathe­son

Ve­teri­nar­i­ans hope an in­no­va­tive type of CT scan can ad­vance med­i­cal care for horses and pos­si­bly be adapted for hu­mans, elim­i­nat­ing the need for peo­ple to lie still in­side a tube.

Ro­botic CT at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s vet­eri­nary school al­lows a horse to re­main awake and stand­ing as scan­ners on two me­chan­i­cal arms move around it. The re­sult­ing high-qual­ity im­ages, in­clud­ing some in 3D, for the first time of­fer de­tailed anatom­i­cal views of the an­i­mal in its nor­mal, upright state.

That’s a huge dif­fer­ence from the stan­dard CT for a horse, which re­quires ad­min­is­ter­ing anes­the­sia, plac­ing the an­i­mal on its side and ma­neu­ver­ing a scan­ning unit around the af­fected area. Not all body parts fit in the ma­chines.

Ro­botic CT “is much less stress­ful,” said Dr. Bar­bara Dal­lap Schaer, med­i­cal direc­tor of Penn Vet’s New Bolton Cen­ter. “It’s a pretty ath­letic event for horses to re­cover from gen­eral anes­the­sia.”

The New York-based com­pany 4DDI cre­ated the Equimag­ine sys­tem with com­po­nents from ro­bot man­u­fac­turer ABB. First un­veiled at Penn last spring, 4DDI now has or­ders for more than a dozen units at equine fa­cil­i­ties around the world, ac­cord­ing to CEO Yior­gos Pa­paioan­nou.

“The word is spread­ing,” Pa­paioan­nou said.

At Penn, the large white ro­botic arms are in­stalled at a barn at New Bolton Cen­ter, the vet school’s hospi­tal for large an­i­mals in the Philadel­phia ex­urb of Ken­nett Square. Horses are given a mild seda­tive and walked into the fa­cil­ity for a scan that lasts less than a minute.

CT, or com­puted to­mog­ra­phy, gives pic­tures of soft tis­sues that X-rays can’t. While tra­di­tional CT re­quires the sub­ject to be still, this new sys­tem com­pen­sates for slight move­ment. Even­tu­ally, vets hope they’ll be able to cap­ture CT im­ages of a horse run­ning on a tread­mill.

The ease of imag­ing means more horses can get pre­ven­tive scans, said Dr. Dean Richard­son, chief of surgery at New Bolton. As it stands, he said, many own­ers are re­luc­tant to have their horses anes­thetized for a di­ag­nos­tic pro­ce­dure be­cause re­cov­ery can be treach­er­ous. As the an­i­mals emerge from un­con­scious­ness and woozily strug­gle to find their foot­ing, they risk cat­a­strophic in­jury if they stum­ble.

“So the whole beauty of this tech­nol­ogy, we hope, is that we’re go­ing to be able to scan much greater num­bers of pa­tients much, much ear­lier in the process of things like stress-re­lated in­juries in a race­horse,” Richard­son said.

For hu­mans, the tech­nol­ogy could be help­ful when deal­ing with squirm­ing chil­dren or claus­tro­pho­bic adults. Doc­tors could also get clearer views of, say, spinal prob­lems in a stand­ing pa­tient in­stead of re­ly­ing on CT per­formed while the per­son is ly­ing down. Penn’s trans­la­tional re­search team has part­nered with other hos­pi­tals to look at the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“This is an in­ter­est­ing con­cept — the abil­ity to im­age in your nat­u­ral state,” said Dr. Raul Up­pot, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of ra­di­ol­ogy at Har­vard Med­i­cal School who is not in­volved in the re­search. “It does of­fer some­thing that doesn’t cur­rently ex­ist in the mar­ket (for hu­mans).”

Equimag­ine’s base cost is $545,000, ac­cord­ing to Pa­paioan­nou, though he said some new cus­tomers are get­ting the equip­ment in ex­change for a per-scan fee. The com­pany plans to make an­other ver­sion of the sys­tem for smaller an­i­mals, he said.

Penn’s sys­tem was made pos­si­ble through a donor, said Dal­lap Schaer, not­ing the cost was com­pa­ra­ble to stan­dard CT scan­ners. Over­all cost for the im­ages will be less than CT scans that re­quire anes­the­sia, she said.

Den­nis Charles, of Al­len­town, brought his horse Bert to Penn Vet for an MRI ear­lier this year, be­fore ro­botic CT was avail­able. The pro­ce­dure re­quired anes­the­sia, and Charles said he was in­cred­i­bly ner­vous watch­ing a wob­bly Bert re­gain con­scious­ness after­ward.

Last month, the horse again needed imag­ing but was able to have ro­botic CT. Charles, who de­scribed the ro­botic sys­tem as look­ing like some­thing out of “Star Wars,” said the scans as­sured him Bert’s leg in­jury had healed.

“They get re­ally pre­cise im­ages,” he said. “I think it’s a tremen­dous piece of equip­ment.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Thurs­day, Sept. 15 photo, Med­i­cal Direc­tor Dr. Bar­bara Dal­lap Schaer, right, and Ra­di­ol­o­gist Dr. Kathryn Wul­ster hold a horse as a com­put­er­ized to­mog­ra­phy scan is con­ducted at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s New Bolton Cen­ter Hospi­tal for Large An­i­mals in Ken­nett Square. Ro­botic CT at the univer­sity’s vet­eri­nary school al­lows a horse to re­main awake and stand­ing as scan­ners on two me­chan­i­cal arms move around it. The re­sult­ing high-qual­ity im­ages, in­clud­ing some in 3D, for the first time of­fer de­tailed anatom­i­cal views of the an­i­mal in its nor­mal, upright state.

A com­put­er­ized to­mog­ra­phy scan is con­ducted on a horse at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s New Bolton Cen­ter Hospi­tal for Large An­i­mals in Ken­nett Square, Pa. Ve­teri­nar­i­ans hope an in­no­va­tive type of CT scan can ad­vance health care for horses and pos­si­bly be adapted for peo­ple.

Chief of Surgery Dr. Dean Richard­son, left, and Med­i­cal Direc­tor Dr. Bar­bara Dal­lap Schaer make prepa­ra­tions to per­form a com­put­er­ized to­mog­ra­phy scan on a horse at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s New Bolton Cen­ter Hospi­tal for Large An­i­mals in Ken­nett Square.

Chief of Surgery Dr. Dean Richard­son, right, and Med­i­cal Direc­tor Dr. Bar­bara Dal­lap Schaer guide a horse into a room to un­dergo a com­put­er­ized to­mog­ra­phy scan at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s New Bolton Cen­ter Hospi­tal for Large An­i­mals in Ken­nett Square. Ve­teri­nar­i­ans hope an in­no­va­tive type of CT scan can ad­vance health care for horses and pos­si­bly be adapted for peo­ple.

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