PULLMAN, Wash.–A team of Washington State University veterinary radiologists and equine surgeons have developed a breakthrough clinical magnetic resonance imaging protocol for horse’s legs.
“The WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital is the only place in the world where live, adult horses can have diagnostic imaging of their legs performed in the MRI system,” said Russ Tucker, an assistant professor and veterinary radiologist. “Using a specially designed support table and a safe and effective anesthesia protocol that we’ve developed, we can now provide optimal imaging of the vital anatomy in horse’s legs unlike what has ever been available before.”
Tucker explained that until now, surgery was the only technique that was as effective in determining the extent of ligament and tendon injuries, damage to joint surface cartilage, and bone malformation and degeneration.
The MRI uses a powerful magnetic field, a sophisticated array of radio wave receivers, and advanced computer technology to produce non-invasive images of internal anatomy that are tissue specific. The images can then be colorized and rendered into digital three-dimensional displays providing veterinary surgeons with an exact road map of any injury if surgery is indicated.
“We are also using the MRI to compare and correlate the diagnostic information we gain with nuclear medicine scans, high-resolution digital ultrasound, CT scans, and conventional radiographs to provide the horse owner as well as the clinicians with a more complete and accurate diagnosis,” said Tucker. “From there, the best decisions can be made for the benefit of the animal.”
A typical session for a horse in WSU’s state-of-the-art MRI suite in the heart of the new $38 million Veterinary Teaching Hospital lasts less than an hour. Costs including anesthesia run from $300 to $500.
In addition to clinical services to the public and referrals from veterinarians, the WSU veterinary radiology group is actively doing research with the MRI to refine techniques and increase the diagnostic usefulness of the device.
“Our objective in clinical veterinary radiology research is to develop safe, accurate, and cost-effective methods for producing the most precise imaging we can. Our goal is to improve diagnostic capabilities throughout the profession for the benefit of all animals, their owners, and the veterinarians who help heal them,” Tucker said.

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