Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has revolutionized both human and veterinary health care. Neurological diseases such as brain inflammation, stroke, and certain tumors are being recognized and treated at an increasing rate thanks to this modality. Even animals with common diseases, like disk herniation have benefited from MRI as it allows for non-invasive diagtnosis and enhanced detection of areas of spinal cord compression. While MRI certainly has the capacity to improve medical care, it is a difficult technology to harness and use appropriately. A recent New York Times article (“Bad Scans a Growing Problem for Patients,” March 2nd 2009) highlighted some of these issues. Namely, MRI centers vary significantly in the quality of their equipment, image interpretation, and infrastructure. The new imaging and cancer treatment center being constructed at Texas A&M plays on our current strengths in image interpretation and infrastructure, while greatly enhancing our equipment.
Over the last several years Texas A&M has built a powerful team of radiologists and clinicians who are nationally recognized leaders in MR technology. Faculty at TAMU were the first to describe the MRI appearance of Pug Dog encephalitis in a large series of dogs and the first to recognize independent relationships between MRI and outcome in dogs with disk herniation. We have also published reports describing newly recognized MRI artifacts as well as MRI features of canine distemper and wobbler’s disease. Why is imaging research and innovation important for the everyday patient? Simply put, innovation enhances day-to-day image interpretation and recognition of new diseases. Innovations in the area of imaging have the potential, therefore, to directly and immediately effect treatment.
One important component to the TAMU MRI program is our team-based approach. We are not a stand alone MRI center or a single clinician rendering diagnoses. Rather, each image is reviewed by a group of radiologists and clinical faculty. This ensures that the appropriate area is imaged, that the correct sequences are run, and that a diagnosis is achieved.
Our current patient care infrastructure is an enormous strength as well. Recent data from human and dog studies suggest that critically ill animals receiving MRI need to have this done at a facility that has in-house intensive care capabilities. We have a 24-7 intensive care unit, staffed with critical care clinicians and nurses to ensure that patients recover appropriately.
In the fall of 2011 we acquired a 3 Tesla MRI for use in large and small animals. Tesla is a measure of the field strength of an MRI. Higher MRI strength equals more detailed images that can be acquired extremely briskly. To put the value of 3T MRI in perspective, the field strength of our TAMU magnet is 2-10 times greater than other MRI units used in veterinary species in the state of Texas. This results in images being acquired 40-80% more rapidly with potentially double the pixel density. In human medicine, 3T MRI has already been shown to enhance the detection of subtle tumors, small strokes, and brain inflammation. And, 3T offers the advantage of being able to examine tissues metabolically and in a non-invasive way understand the pathology of lesions. Likewise, 3T MRI has recently been used in an “MR microscopy” technique used to detect subtle laminitis in horses.