How Robots are
Revolutionising
Horses' Health

06 January 2018

Ground-breaking new technology in the US can help horses, and humans, too

In 2016, Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center became the first veterinary teaching hospital in the world to utilise the EQUIMAGINE™ system. So, what is the EQUIMAGINE™? And what are its implications for the world of horse sports?

 


 

The EQUIMAGINE™ is a standing computed tomography (CT) system developed by Four Dimensional Digital Imaging (4DDI), and the system itself consists of two robots. New Bolton Center was chosen as the beta testing site because they were willing to develop protocol for working with large animals, particularly horses, an element 4DDI considered important, as they believe that if the system works with large animals, it can be easily transferred to other species, including humans.

It’s frequently used
to obtain leg, foot
and skull images

It’s truly a revolutionary system, chiefly because it allows the horse to be examined standing and under light sedation. The system is incredibly fast, taking only 30 seconds to complete a full scan in some cases, meaning it’s faster than traditional radiographs, and less expensive than MRIs or scintigraphy.

 

Besides speed, the biggest advantage offered by the system, according to New Bolton Center’s Dr. Kathryn Wulster, is early detection and superiority in bone imaging.

 

The EQUIMAGINE™ is capable of detecting small changes in bone density and allows every aspect of the bone to be viewed. As sport horses are particularly susceptible to repetitive trauma and subchondral bone injuries, early, precise detection makes an enormous difference in preventing or slowing the progress of such injuries.

 

Thanks to the system’s ability to scan a standing horse, it can also be used to study the cervical spine around the base of the neck, allowing for new insights into osteoarthritis in that region. Finally, the system has also proven useful in evaluating dental and sinus issues, and in ruling out potential concerns found in pre-purchase exams.

  

However, the EQUIMAGINE™ does have certain limits. As a standing CT, it provides only structural information, unlike either scintigraphy or an MRI, which both provide functional information about affected bones. The EQUIMAGINE™ is most effective when a lameness is localised via blocking. The system isn’t yet effective for soft tissue imaging, though research is being done improve effectiveness in this area. Like any system, evaluations need to be made based on the horse’s exhibited symptoms, and in correlation with other tests and images.

 

Over the past year, the EQUIMAGINE™ has been brought into regular use with new research being done constantly. It’s frequently used to obtain leg, foot, and skull images in patients, and is starting to be used for neck imaging to detect potential arthritis or neurological concerns.

 

Keep up to date with the latest news from the equine world by following the FEI on Twitter at @FEI_Global.

 

Text by Noelle Maxwell

Images by Penn Vet/New Bolton Center

Video by University of Pennsylvania Communications