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10.01.10

New Advances in Technology for Pets

How do our pets benefit from technological advances in veterinary medicine?

Some of the latest innovation in imaging and treatment technology has led to less invasive, more accurate, and even faster diagnosis of disease, which improves outcomes for our pets. Veterinarians add these new tools to their treatment arsenal to identify the best treatment options for their patients, with the ultimate objective of avoiding invasive procedures such as surgery when possible.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a promising technological advance that veterinary medicine is incorporating into practice. Dr. Tige Witsberger, lecturer at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, thinks the use of MRI in soft tissue surgery has exciting potential.

"MRI is currently used on a regular basis for our neurology cases. We are hopeful that as the cost and time to perform an MRI decreases we'll be able to utilize MRI on a more regular basis on the orthopedic and soft tissue surgery services," says Witsberger. "We are currently building a new facility for a very powerful 3T MRI that should be completed in the spring of 2011. This should allow us to perform faster scans and to use the MRI for orthopedic conditions like ACL and meninscal tears. In addition, identification of soft tissue masses prior to surgery could be greatly improved with the use of MRI."

In addition to its potential use in neurologic, orthopedic, and soft tissue treatment, MRI is also an important technology for studying diseases of the heart.  However, MRI carries a relatively high cost, requires the use of anesthesia, and has limited availability making its widespread adoption relatively limited at present.

"Like with anything new that appears to be costly, you have to show an added value.  For instance is the new technology less invasive to the patient or does it do a better job than other available diagnostic imaging technologies," says Dr. Sonya Gordon, associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "You need to use the best tools to get the most accurate answer without over utilizing a particular technology just because it is new; it's a cost-benefit analysis."

However, technology changes fast and other evolving imaging modalities may challenge MRI as the tool of choice in specific situations.

Ultrasound, for instance, "has improved so much over the last ten years that it would be hard right now to find a reason to use MRI in a clinical cardiology case," says Gordon. "We know that ultrasound has been around for a long time, but the technology has dramatically improved leading to even 3D and 4D imaging options to name a few advances. I think we will learn more about the usefulness of ultrasound and particularly, we'll understand how the newer aspects of this technology can help us better understand diseases. The current gold standard for evaluating many aspects of heart size and function is considered MRI. However, given the advances in ultrasound imaging: its reduced cost relative to MRI, its availability, the fact that patients do not require anesthesia, and the relative ease of image acquisition and interpretation it is much better suited to serial evaluations which are very important in monitoring disease progression and tailoring therapy."

What is the next technological step in veterinary medicine?

"As cardiologists, we strive to offer minimally invasive procedures that can be performed through access to arteries and veins, that allow us to put in special devices to fix some heart defects or to dilate areas that are too tight with balloons," resumed Gordon.

For her, the technological Holy Grail would be non-invasively repair mitral valves that leak, which is a very common problem in old dogs.

According to Gordon, another great recent advance in veterinary cardiology was the development of the Amplatz Canine Ductal Ocluder (CDO). This was a revolutionary device because, unlike previous devices that were used to non-invasively repair a common congenital heart defect in the dog, this device was specifically designed for the dog.

"It makes fixing these cardiac defects in the dog much easier and takes much less time. It's one of those things that costs a little bit more but works very well making it a great advancement," Gordon said.

As technology becomes more affordable and accessible to veterinarians, the ability to integrate these new tools into veterinary practice will become routine and will ultimately improve the quality of life for pets everywhere.

 

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Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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