Joint $2.4-M.-Project to Develop MRI for Veterinary Use
Oct. 16, 1998
On Campus Column
JOINT $2.4-M.-Project to Develop MRI for Veterinary Use
It would be a veterinarian's dream -- a relatively low-cost MRI scanning device specifically designed for detecting tumors and injuries in animals.
At present, few veterinary teaching hospitals or clinics in North America can afford the $1.5-million-dollar MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) systems used for diagnosing human ailments. Veterinarians have to resort to less sophisticated diagnostic tools unless they can negotiate with a local hospital for after-hours use of a human MRI scanner.
Over the past 18 months, researchers at both the U of S (in medical imaging and veterinary medicine) and the National Research Council's Institute for BioDiagnostics in Winnipeg have been working to develop MRI for veterinary use.
Now they're now teaming up to develop what they hope will be the first commercial veterinary MRI system in North America.
U of S and NRC (through its arm's length company Diaspec Holdings Inc. of Winnipeg) have jointly established a company -- MRV Systems Inc. -- to develop the specialized machines and take them to market. Dr. Edward Kendall, research director for the U of S medical imaging department, will lead the new company.
Total developmental costs are $2.4 million over three years. Of this, $750,000 will come from a federal Western Economic Diversification loan, $750,000 from the NRC (an 'in kind' contribution of a research MRI scanner), and $800,000 ($90,000 in cash and the rest in in-kind contributions) from the U of S. The remaining $100,000 is from Dr. Gordon Goodridge, a Winnipeg veterinarian whose interest in MRI triggered the NRC research. .
The U of S and the NRC are equal partners in the project, while Goodridge owns four per cent.
The new company hopes to tap into the lucrative $150-million-a-year North American market for large animal diagnostic imaging. Buyers for the under-$500,000 scanners would be veterinary teaching hospitals and large clinics.
In particular, the company anticipates strong demand from the race horse industry. MRI, which permits a view of both bone and soft tissue at the same time, is much more sensitive than X-ray in detecting subtle injuries before they lead to major problems.
Within two years, the firm hopes to have developed a unit for scanning small animals. Another scanner specifically for use with horses and other large animals will be built as a mobile unit to transport around the country. The design will permit scanning of a horse while it's standing.
A research MRI scanner brought from Winnipeg and installed at Royal University Hospital last April will be used to demonstrate the technology with small animals. This machine will also be used to develop devices for the specialized prototype machines which will be built at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) using NRC's hardware expertise.
The project will mean six to eight full-time and two part-time jobs over the next two years and potential revenues for the university once the company is selling the scanners. As well, it will be a major boon to both U of S medical imaging and veterinary research.
"The direct bonus for the university is that we will attract high-quality students, some of whom will stay on as faculty," said Kendall, noting the number of medical imaging graduate students has already doubled on the strength of reports the project was in the works.
"This project will build up the Saskatchewan group of people who are at the forefront of MRI research and enhance the university's international profile."
Dr. John Pharr, a WCVM professor of medical imaging, says having the prototype machines at the college will enhance veterinary teaching, research and community service, as well as prospects for attracting top faculty and graduate students. .
"We'll be able to offer the best diagnostic tools available and we can accept more cases with complicated conditions," he says.
He expects WCVM will become a regional centre for veterinary MRI diagnostics. Future graduates trained on the new MRI scanners will be inclined to refer difficult cases here, he said.
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