WCVM Student's Horse Anatomy Project Goes Live

When Dane Tatarniuk began his summer research project in 2008, the second-year veterinary student wasn't expecting to play a role in developing a minimally-invasive surgical technique for treating sinusitis in horses.  

"My initial project was to investigate the normal anatomy of the horse's nasal maxillary opening--the opening that leads from the nasal cavities into the paranasal sinuses," explains Tatarniuk, whose summer job was supported by the WCVM's Equine Health Research Fund.

Inserting catheter

Dane Tatarniuk (left) watches as Dr. Chris Bell uses a horse's skull to demonstrate how the human esophageal dilation balloon catheter is inflated inside the sinus cavity.

But once he shared the results of his work with his supervisors, James Carmalt, MA, VetMB, MVetSc, MRCVS, Dipl. ABVP, ACVS, and Chris Bell, DVM, the project took an exciting new direction when the large animal clinicians began discussing how they could use Tatarniuk's fundamental findings to improve the actual treatment of sinus problems in horses.

By summer's end, the research team had successfully tested a new technique in a live horse at the WCVM's Veterinary Teaching Hospital. "It's really exciting for me that I was a part of helping to develop this technique, and it's something that I could be using in my future career," says Tatarniuk, who will begin his third year at the WCVM this fall.

Originally from Yorkton, Sask., Tatarniuk's interest in horses began while spending summers and holidays with his uncle, a racehorse trainer in Vancouver. "It was partially to get the experience needed to get into vet school, but it was also really fun to do, and I got the opportunity to hang out with the racetrack veterinarians there."

This summer, Tatarniuk will even gain more valuable hands-on experience with Dan French, DVM, MVSc, Dipl. ACVS, in his satellite clinic at Calgary's Spruce Meadows. As well, he's still gaining from last year's research work. Veterinary Surgery recently published a case study written by Tatarniuk, Carmalt and Andy Allen, DVM, MVetSc, PhD, of WCVM's Department of Veterinary Pathology, and the student is hoping another journal will publish an article detailing findings from his research project.

Q: How did your project evolve over last summer?

I started out working with equine cadaver heads taking various measurements. As we progressed, we started to look at different disease processes in the sinuses. From there, Dr. Bell came up with the idea to mimic what's done in human medicine by dilating the opening using the balloon catheter. By the end of the summer, we'd developed a technique that surgically helps facilitate drainage in a non-invasive manner.

Q: What did you gain from your research experience?

For one thing, I gained exposure to using resources--looking up journal articles and searching for information on academic websites. Then actually writing my paper helped strengthen my abilities to form thought processes and put ideas into words.

I also gained a lot of valuable clinical experience just helping out around the clinics. Observing Dr. Bell and Dr. Carmalt performing lameness exams gave me good exposure in developing my interpretive skills, and interpreting radiographs was really good practice for me.

Another benefit was the chance to watch the veterinarians with the clients--to see them interact with clients and help them make decisions in terms of prognosis and cost of treatment. The whole summer was a really good experience. Dr. Carmalt and Dr. Bell are both very determined, driven and innovative. It was a really good environment for team work.

Q: What was the highlight?

When we actually achieved the technique in the live, standing, sedated horse--that was probably the highlight of the summer. It was pretty close to the end of the summer for me, and it was a nice conclusion in that we'd started just looking at the anatomy and finished with actually having this surgical technique successfully achieved in a live horse.

Q: Is research part of your future plans?

I really want to pursue an internship, and I'm considering a residency in large animal surgery after that. But I wouldn't mind returning to research as a part time thing some day. Doing research along with maintaining clinical responsibilities would be a nice balance.

Q: Do you have any advice for students considering research?

I think it's really important to know what you want to get out of the experience. I was very fortunate to work for someone who was active in research but also maintained clinical responsibilities. It's just a better opportunity for your education--you're getting two experiences in one shot.

Reprinted with permission of Horse Health Lines, news publication for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine's Equine Health Research Fund. Visit ehrf.usask.ca for more information.

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