The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine recently acquired a Hitachi Echelon 1.5 Tesla MRI unit. This is the first and only high field MRI unit in the state of Louisiana for veterinary use. Since March 30, the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital has scanned more than 56 patients with the MRI. Located on the first floor of the hospital, the MRI is accessible through the main hospital building and the Equine Hospital's breezeway. This allows both small and large animal patients to be examined.

"With this magnet, LSU is in the upper echelon for veterinary diagnostic imaging," said Lorrie Gaschen, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECVDI, associate professor of veterinary radiology. "We match or exceed the technology of any other veterinary school in the country."

With only 28 veterinary schools in the country, keeping up with new technology is important. "This technology is an indispensable diagnostic tool," Gaschen said. "The high field strength of this magnet equates to a better signal, better images, and a shorter scan time. A shorter scan time means less time that an animal has to be under anesthesia."

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a non-invasive technique that uses strong magnetic fields to produce images of practically any part of the body. MRI has significant advantages over other imaging modalities, such as CT scans. With MRI, no ionizing radiation is involved; instead, a powerful magnet is used to send and receive radiofrequency impulses between it and the patient that carry information specific to the tissue type. This produces high resolution images that are especially good for contrasting different types of soft tissue, so that fat, muscle, fluids, as well as the grey and white matter of the brain, can be easily visualized and differentiated from one another. This makes MRI ideal for detecting lesions in the brain, spine, and musculoskeletal system.

With access from the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's large animal breezeway, a custom-made, MRI-compatible table, and specialized anesthesia equipment, the LSU Diagnostic Imaging Service can use the MRI to scan the limbs and heads of large animals, including horses.

The special MRI anesthesia unit for horses is designed with MRI-compatible materials, and the table has special padding to support the weight of the horse to protect pressure points along the body and limbs.

"Since a horse's body cannot fit completely through the gantry like a dog or cat, the LSU team developed their own technique to make images toward the edge--and not just the center--of the gantry," Gaschen said. "This is called off iso-center imaging."

The 1.5T Hitachi Echelon is a high field magnetic with many extras, including 8-channel, parallel imaging capabilities that will allow clinicians to produce images faster and in high detail. "Because we are faced with a highly variable patient size in veterinary medicine, and the fact that all of the patients must be anesthetized, a robust MRI unit such as this one is an important advantage," Gaschen said.

The benefits of MRI are numerous. It allows for less invasive studies of animals with disease or injuries, allowing for fewer post-anesthesia complications, which translates into better patient care because of shorter anesthesia time. It also is the ultimate for neuroimaging. "There are many musculoskeletal and neurological disorders that can only be diagnosed with MRI," Gaschen said.

Gaschen foresees a growing list of uses for MRI at the School of Veterinary Medicine. "I expect that many vascular diseases in dogs and horses that are both acquired and congenital will be examined using MRI in the future," she said, "plus many investigators will use the MRI unit to conduct research studies in a non-invasive manner. There is a trend now in veterinary medicine to study ways in which MRI can be used in preference to invasive catheterization and radiographic contrast studies for diagnosing diseases involving the vasculature.

In addition to being a tremendous diagnostic tool, the MRI will be used for teaching. "Veterinary students will graduate from LSU knowing when and how MRI can benefit their patients," Gaschen said.

The LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital has package prices for the MRI that include fees for anesthesia. The hospital also has an outpatient imaging service for computed tomography (CT) and MRI now available to veterinarians in Louisiana and throughout the southeastern United States. More information is available at

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