A world-leading scan technology will propel WA to the forefront of equine health education.
WESTERN Australia has taken a leading role in equine health with a new scanning system set to improve veterinary students’ diagnostic skills.
The Animal Hospital at Murdoch University recently opened an equine diagnostic imaging facility: the Standing Advanced Imaging Suite.
The new facility includes a Qalibra standing computerised tomography (CT) machine to detect and prevent early injuries in horses by scanning the head, neck and lower limbs while the animal is standing.
Equine medicine senior lecturer David Byrne told Business News this was one of the most significant investments in the equine veterinary industry in WA in the past 20 years.
“CT is where we’re taking images, advanced cross-sectional 3D images of particularly the lower legs, but also the head and neck of horses, whereas MRI is for the lower legs,” Dr Byrne said.
“The fact that we have both of these now essentially catapults us towards the top of excellence in diagnostic imaging for horses.
“There aren’t many places in the world that have both standing CT and MRI, and there certainly aren’t many that have the quality of standing CT in particular that we do, which is pretty much the most state-of-the-art standing CT for horses in the world.
“It also allows our students a lot of exposure to more advanced technology that are going to become more routine for horses and horse owners in the future.
“It’s something they will be exposed to over their careers, far more than my generation of vets would have been.”
He said the new technology would significantly decrease risks associated with anaesthesia.
“The background to this is that we’ve had CT for about 10 years, but previously we’ve had to anesthetise those horses,” Dr Byrne said.
“There’s another facility in WA that has MRI for horses, but again, they have to anesthetise.
“That brings a bigger risk in horses than in other species because they’re much bigger.
“When they are anaesthetised and when they recover, they have a risk of injury and a higher risk of death.”
The Animal Hospital’s imaging suite has already attracted interest from overseas, according to Dr Byrne.
“We also have spoken to several specialists around the world who are potentially interested in coming here … and part of that attraction is this new facility with these pieces of equipment,” he said.
“It’s beneficial for attracting international staff. For instance those who have particular interest in 3D imaging.
“It attracts, potentially, research into diseases of racehorses like bone disease, where there’s a lot of international scrutiny on how we can best prevent these injuries.”
The facility also receives financial support from Racing and Wagering WA.
“For us, Racing WA, the welfare of our animals, and in this case the horses, is certainly paramount,” Racing and Wagering WA chief racing officer David Hunter said.
“This was an opportunity for us to be able to get behind what is the latest CT scan technology.
“While human beings got access to a Medicare rebate to offset a lot of that cost … we’ve designed a [similar] system here in WA for industry participants, owners, trainers out there [who] may be put off from accessing this technology.
“We’ve put that rebating of up to $1,500, or 15 per cent of the fees charged by Murdoch, just to make sure we’re encouraging people to make use of the technology.
“In Australia, this is literally the best scanner … either in human or animal medicine at this time available to our industry.”
The health of horses, particularly of the racing kind, is undoubtedly a topic that arises in the lead up to and during the Melbourne Cup.
Dr Byrne said Australia had one of the lowest fatality rates in the world for racehorses.
“Now obviously, one fatality is far too many, but there is a lot of research being done in Australia,” he said.
“There isn’t a lot in WA currently, but these technologies actually allow us to start doing that research far more effectively.
“With this cutting-edge technology, we certainly have the populations and the quality of racehorse to be able to do it.”