Clinician's View

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    How does MRI improve diagnosis and treatment?

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    WSU veterinary student, Beryl Swanson ('14 DVM) with Mr. Bear after surgery.

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    A Machine with Greater Capabilities

Clinician's View: Radiology

MRI is the most widely used diagnostic tool in veterinary medicine

Why is an MRI so critical for our veterinary patients?

"MR images are used to look for many types of diseases that are impossible or difficult to detect with other imaging modalities," says Dr. Greg Roberts, WSU veterinary radiologist.

It is essential to have a state-of-the-art, modern high field strength MRI system at every veterinary teaching and research institution.
Dr. Russ Tucker, WSU veterinary radiologist

MRI offers the opportunity to examine patients and detect disease or injury that is not evident with other imaging modalities such as radiography (x-ray), ultrasonography (ultrasound), computed tomography (CT) and nuclear scintigraphy.

"The most valuable aspect of MRI is in its ability to image the central nervous system," says Dr. Tom Wilkinson, WSU veterinary radiologist. "For many small animal cases it allows us to visualize damage to the spinal cord or brain that would not be evident using other imagining modalities."

MRI can detect cancerous tumors in the body, brain or spine. The images can show damaged brain tissue, or problems in the heart, blood vessels, lungs, and abdominal organs. It can also provide information about injured tendons, ligaments, bone and muscles. Often MRI detects disease or injury at earlier stages than x-ray or CT scans. For instance, an MRI can detect brain tumor regrowth much sooner than a CT. And the earlier the diagnosis, the earlier treatment can begin.

Without an MRI machine, how would it affect diagnoses?

WSU CVM Radiologists
(L-R) WSU radiologists, Drs. Greg Roberts, Russ Tucker, and Tom Wilkinson

"Within the last week we have had two small animal patients that suffered injuries to the spinal cord that did not cause swelling of the cord or compression," says Dr. Wilkinson. "Without MRI the damage to the cord would not have been identified."

"Without MRI, we would be extremely limited in our ability to look at the brain, the central and peripheral nervous system, or joint and musculoskeletal bone and soft tissue disorders," says Dr. Russ Tucker, WSU veterinary radiologist. "There are several conditions including some brain tumors or soft tissue injuries that can only be recognized with examinations using MRI."

"Equine lameness clinicians would be less able to identify potential sources of lameness, especially in the foot, which is the most common site for lameness," says Dr. Wilkinson. "This greatly limits a clinician's ability to formulate a treatment plan that would best fit the patient and client. With new technology, we will also be able to image more of the limb in the same time it now takes to do one small section. This minimizes anesthesia times and risks to the patient."

How can MRI be used to find new diseases or discover new treatments?

"Research using MRI can also lead us to discovery of new diseases or better visualization of the effects of novel treatments," says Dr. Wilkinson.

Ten years ago it was believed that dogs and cats didn't suffer from strokes. Today, WSU neurologist Dr. Annie Chen says by using MRI they see that dogs and cats do stroke and that it is not that uncommon as veterinarians used to think.

"An MRI upgrade would also allow us to continue world-class research and collaboration," says Dr. Tucker. "It is essential to have a state-of-the-art, modern high field strength MRI system at every veterinary teaching and research institution."

Washington State University