The inner workings of a horse's gut are somewhat of a mystery, even to experts.
Veterinary researcher Dr. Julia Montgomery of the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) says, "Whenever I talk to students about the horse abdomen, I put up a picture of a horse and put a big question mark in the middle."
But now, thanks to the ingenuity of U of S engineers and veterinary researchers, the horse gut has become a little less mysterious. Dr. Montgomery, along with equine surgeon Dr. Joe Bracamonte, and engineer Khan Wahid, have adapted the use of an endoscopic "camera pill" used in human medicine to veterinary medicine.
Wahid, who is a specialist in health informatics and imaging at the University's College of Engineering, has a great deal of experience working with endoscopy capsule technology for humans. But until just recently, such technology had never been used in veterinary medicine.
The only methods for examining a horse's small intestine were exploratory surgery and laparoscopy, neither of which provides a perfect picture of what's going on inside.
On March 1, the team made its first foray into the world of experimental equine endoscopy with the help of a capsule camera roughly the size and shape of a vitamin pill. They sent the pill straight into the stomach of a horse via a tube. The camera pill worked its way through the horse's small intestine over the course of the next eight hours, providing invaluable visual data about the inner workings of the organ.
Capsule endoscopy has enormous potential to advance equine veterinary medicine in that it will help veterinarians diagnose and assess diseases like cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. It will also allow researchers to develop a comprehensive picture of healthy small intestine function and to assess the efficacy of bowel-stimulating drugs.
The team's research has just begun. Over the next few months, the team intends to gather more data by testing the camera pill on multiple horses. Once enough data has been gathered, the engineers can customize the device to suit equine anatomy and physiology.
With some horse-specific modifications, camera endoscopy promises to become a powerful, and potentially life-saving tool for equine veterinarians and researchers.
All photos via University of Saskatchewan