Ontario Veterinary College Opens MRI Facility

The University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College has opened its new $5-million magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility. It's one of only a few worldwide that can accommodate a wide range of animals, from cats and dogs to horses and livestock.

The MRI unit is the same type of machine used for humans. It can take whole-body images of smaller animals like dogs and foals, and in larger animals like an adult horse, it scans specific sections such as the head and neck and the front leg up to the knee. OVC will use MRI in applied research and in clinical diagnosis of illnesses such as epilepsy, cancer, arthritis and visual impairments.

"This will make a huge difference in our ability to diagnose and treat cases – the research potential is limitless," said Prof. Howard Dobson, DVSc, Dipl. ACVRS, Cert EO, a radiologist in the Department of Clinical Studies. The high level of precision in an MRI makes it a valuable tool, he said. It can pick up on very subtle changes in bone, soft tissue and cartilage that are not normally detected through radiographs or bone scans.

As well, it produces better anatomical images than other methods do and is non-invasive and painless. MRI is also highly versatile, for example, it can produce pathological images that allow for the identification of healthy and diseased tissue. "The information from MRI can be very specific, such as the exact measures of a tumour's size and how blood flows to the site," Dobson said.

It takes between one and two hours to image an animal, and OVC hopes to eventually be able to accommodate as many as six MRIs per day. The price of an MRI will be limited to the cost of maintaining the expensive equipment and paying the specialists who operate it--$700-900 per animal (not including the cost of anesthesia).

In many cases, the clinical cases and research work involving MRI will be intertwined, allowing researchers to learn more about illnesses such as cancer and spinal cord disease by studying images from animal patients with their owners' permission.

Ten years in the planning and fund raising stages, the MRI was funded through the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust and OVC's Pet Trust Fund, which contributed $1.45 million.

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