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From the inside out: Diagnostic imaging guides treatment and research

A radiologist and fourth-year veterinary medicine students gather around a computer monitor, staring at a Computer Tomography (CT) 3-D image of a heart. The doctor studies the image, pointing out the anomalies to the students. Down the hall, a surgeon awaits the image’s interpretation. What the radiologist finds will guide his surgical procedure. During it all, the patient lies on the table under sedation.
   

Dr. Kent Scarratt (right), an associate professor in the Department of Large Animal Medicine, and a team of clinicians and students position a goat in the CT scanner. Dr. Kent Scarratt (right), an associate professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, and a team of clinicians and students position a goat in the CT scanner.

In the Horace E. and Elizabeth F. Alphin Radiology Center at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, CT scans and other forms of non-invasive imaging are used daily to diagnose both large and small animal patients and design treatment plans.

For example, imaging a heart prior to cardiac surgery allows the surgeon to pinpoint the area on which he needs to operate. Such analysis lessens the time a patient must be under anesthesia and quickening the recovery process.

   

This CT scan shows the abdomen of a dog. Staff at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital can see the spine, ribs, spleen, and other organs and prescribe treatment. This CT scan shows the abdomen of a dog. Staff at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital can see the spine, ribs, spleen, and other organs and prescribe treatment.

“High-quality imaging and accurate interpretation by our radiologists are absolutely critical to the healthcare of our patients,” said Dr. Martha Moon Larson, professor and section chief of the hospital’s radiology service.

Including Larson, the college has five veterinary radiologists and two radiology residents who are responsible for interpreting the diagnostic images. Four radiology technologists are specially trained and certified to perform diagnostic imaging and administer radioactive substances for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

Whether it is a dermatological or surgical consult, nearly 70 percent of all the patients who visit the Veterinary Teaching Hospital receive some sort of imaging.

“Radiology is really the center of the hospital,” Larson said. 

In addition to a 16-slice CT scanner, the center also offers magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine, large and small animal radiology (X-ray), ultrasound, and digital fluoroscopy.  In 2006, the college also converted to a digital radiology system. This allows for all diagnostics to be stored in a computer system and viewed from anywhere in the hospital, or the world. The investment in the new system was well worth it, according to Susie Ayers, senior radiology technologist.

   

Dr. Martha Larson (center), a veterinary radiologist, performs an ultrasound on a feline patient. Dr. Martha Larson (center), a veterinary radiologist, performs an ultrasound on a feline patient.

“Upgrading to this system allows for better manipulation of the images and a quicker diagnostic time for our doctors and patients,” she said.

The services of the Alphin Radiology Center don’t end with diagnostics. The center and its staff are frequently called upon to assist in research projects in the veterinary college, across the university campus, and throughout the state. From supporting trauma studies to scanning dinosaur eggs, the hospital’s equipment is utilized in a variety of ways.

“This technology provides us with an innovative way of seeing things,” Larson said.  “Instead of working only from what they can see on the outside, our doctors and researchers from all over the university have the advantage of being able to see and work from the inside out.”

  • For more information on this topic, contact Christy Jackson at (540) 231-7239.