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Vet Med adds nuclear imaging

By Jeff Douglas

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 5 - September 22, 1994

Nuclear imaging has been added to the growing array of diagnostic technologies offered in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Alphin Radiology Center at Virginia Tech.

Nuclear imaging is a general term for a number of specific techniques that involve administering a radiopharmaceutical to a patient and evaluating internal body structures with a special detector known as a gamma camera, according to veterinary radiologist Don Barber.

It is especially useful for evaluating lamenesses in horses, said Barber, who heads the College's Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. "It's a more sensitive technology for picking up bone abnormalies," he said.

The technique has several useful applications in companion animal medicine as well, Barber said. It can be used to image numerous organ systems such as bone, thyroid, hepatobiliary, vascular, and others. It is an especially effective tool for diagnosing feline hyperthyroidism and for early detection of bone lesions.

Because it involves the use of radionuclides, it cannot be used in cattle, sheep, or any agricultural animal that might make its way into the human food chain.

The procedure involves injecting the patient with a radionuclide--usually Technesium-99m--which is tagged to a pharmaceutical, depending upon the structure or tissue being evaluated.

The gamma camera records the activity and the distribution of the radiopharmaceutical inside the patient and an image of the area being examined is then produced on film. A computer may also be used to provide quantitative data for some studies.

The low-level radionuclide has a short half-life of six hours. Physical decay and biological excretion within a day or two pose no more harm to a patient than other specialized radiographic procedures, Barber said.

Much of the new equipment was donated to the VMRCVM from Roanoke Memorial Hospital. VMRCVM officials are currently working with Virginia Tech's mechanical engineering department to modify the equipment so that it can be more conveniently used with horses.

Nuclear imaging is one of several new imaging technologies available in the Teaching Hospital's Radiology Center. Last year, computed tomography and digital fluoroscopy were added, and ultrasound capabilities were upgraded.

"We've made a lot of progress over the last few years," Barber said.