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New CT Scanner predicts racehorse injuries

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TeleMedVET - equine CT scanner
// // Racing is a serious, and sometimes deadly, business. WA tech can make it safer...

In the week of Melbourne Cup, the race that stops the nation, our minds may turn to ‘having a flutter on the gee-gees’. Behind the long lunches, bottles of bubbly and fascinators, lies a serious, and sometimes deadly, business.

With every stride, a thoroughbred racehorse places up to four tonnes of force through its fetlocks, with the joint aging the equivalent of 20 years in three.

Little wonder then that bone and joint-related lameness is an ever-present veterinary problem in the racing industry. At its extreme, these injuries can lead to catastrophic bone breaks which often lead to the death of a horse and serious injury to the jockey.

According to Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, Ascot racecourse in Perth was the most lethal racetrack in Australia during the 2022 season and nationally there was an overall increase in the rate of forelimb fractures compared to 2021. This has occurred despite efforts by the industry to limit these events.

In 2021, WA-based med startup TeleMedVET, in partnership with Amelia Park Racing, announced their purpose-built equine research and development centre aimed at contributing towards the international scientific effort into bone and joint disease. 

By combining a simple blood test with techniques employed in advanced human medical imaging the TeleMedVET team believes it is on the road to identifying a biomarker that promises to serve as an early warning sign for impending breakdown.

Whilst there is a much more data to collect, the system has so far correctly predicted bone and joint injury in over 40 horses over the past 12 months.

Peter Tually, TeleMedVET Principal Investigator

Meanwhile, the group has just installed the first standing equine CT scanner of its type in the southern hemisphere (see main image).

“This is a big deal for WA racing community and our local business” said co-founder, Chris Cowcher. “It is a walk-in walk-out scanner requiring only light sedation and uses a very low radiation doses to provide amazing cross-sectional images of the horse’s lower legs”.

The scanner is operated by registered medical imaging technologists with expertise in CT scanning.

“These guys have at least 5 years of specialist imaging training under their belt and it’s fantastic to leverage their skills to maximise the potential of this cutting edge medtech” said Chris.

Working closely with vets at Perth Equine Hospital, this brand-new CT scanner compliments the existing 3D scintigraphic unit.

“We’re really excited about the clinical impact this diagnostic tool will have on our orthopaedic care,” said principal vet Dr Paul O’Callaghan.

Earlier this year, Racing and Wagering of Western Australia announced a scheme to subsidise the cost of advanced imaging for WA-based racehorses.

New CT Scanner predicts racehorse injuries
Melbourne Cup action

Similar to the ‘Medicare for Horses‘ initiative in Victoria, which was prompted by the spate of Melbourne Cup deaths, the TeleMedVET group has scanned close to 100 lame horses scintigraphically.

Of these, more than 28% were found to have stress fractures and 30% had other types of joint diseases. In some cases, the horses were retired as a result of the scan or sent out for extended rest.

This new standing CT will help to better characterise the lesions found on scintigraphy to help vets determine the best course of management for that horse.

“Obviously, we wish to uncover vulnerable areas of bone and joint fatigue before a horse becomes lame – preventative care is the key however funding is required to meet that goal,” said Peter Tually.

This new CT scanner was imported from the UK and uses a special type of radiation beam which is capable of providing better resolution for high contrast structures like bone when compared to traditional scanners at a far lower radiation dose to horse handlers – and it has less environmental impact, using far less electricity.

These types of scanners are increasingly being used in major hospitals as they are logistically easier to use and need less shielding. For the horse this means a quicker scan overall and less stress for everyone involved.

TeleMedVET tests performed last week on racehorses have already uncovered significant defects in joints that trainers were unaware of.

“Being exposed to far less radiation is also a major plus,” said Peter. “Especially when considering younger workers”.

Tests performed for the radiation regulatory demonstrated the system exposes staff up to 10 times less radiation compared to the older CT scanners whilst providing superior bone resolution.

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Startup News has been the home of West Australian startup news and events since 2013. We publish several news stories, interviews, tips and events relating to WA startups every week, with over 1,900 articles in our archives. We also produce the 'Startup West' podcast, and host the 'Hubs (Ecosystem)' database of WA startup programs, places and events.
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