The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
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Imaging team lends expertise to racehorse studies

Veterinary equine cardiologists and orthopaedic specialists collaborate with magnetic resonance imaging experts to gain insights into heart health and leg fractures in racehorses.

Specialists in equine health at the Dick Vet have joined forces with imaging teams in the University’s Medical College to advance understanding of heart health and leg fractures in horses.

Heart studies

A collaboration between equine cardiologists and imaging experts has developed a non-invasive approach to study fibres in the hearts of horses.

The team sought to evaluate the patterns of small fibres in the left atrium, or chamber, of the equine heart, which is useful knowledge in developing techniques to identify electrical activity in the heart.

Equine cardiology experts and teams from Edinburgh Imaging used scanning technologies, known as diffusion tensor MR and micro CT, to create detailed images of post-mortem specimens from horses.

Both techniques led to excellent visualisation of the three-dimensional organisation of fibre tracts within the heart chamber.

These techniques allow detailed insights into the specimens without any lasting physical effects on the samples, so that anatomical features can be preserved for further study.

The equine cardiology team is currently analysing the data from the scans. 

Applying non-destructive imaging techniques to better understand the anatomy of equine hearts has shown to be a valuable approach, which we hope can inform efforts to develop methods of studying electrical activity in the heart – an important indicator of heart health.

Dr John KeenSenior Lecturer, the Dick Vet

Fracture studies

In a separate project, experts from Edinburgh Imaging collaborated with equine orthopaedic specialists at the Dick Vet on imaging of the Thorougbred fetlock – the high motion joint between a horse’s knee and hoof.

The team used a newly installed 3T Siemens Skyra MR scanner to capture images of 17 limbs recovered from horse cadavers.

Researchers hope to use MR look for biological indications to help predict fracture occurrence in athletic horses, whose bones becomes more dense as they train.

MR spectroscopy has been used to predict the likelihood of fractures in women with osteoporosis, in whom an inverse process occurs – the fat content of the bone increases as the bone mineral density decreases.

The MR spectroscopy fat measurement will be compared to microscopic analysis.

The scanner forms part of the advanced imaging services available at the Dick Vet’s Large Animal Research Imaging Facility (LARIF).

Further work

To continue their collaboration, the teams from Edinburgh Imaging, Equine Orthopaedics and Equine Diagnostic Imaging will seek to investigate early changes that occur in the course of palmar osteochondral disease, a condition encountered in more than 50 per cent of racing Thoroughbreds.

Research was funded by the Horseracing Betting Levy Board.

I hope these advanced imaging studies will give us further insights into how fractures occur in horses, which may help in future prevention and timely treatment.

Dr Sarah TaylorEquine Orthopaedic Surgeon, the Dick Vet

Related links

Edinburgh Imaging

Equine Veterinary Services


Horserace Betting Levy Board

About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies 

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos. 

The School comprises: 

The Roslin Institute 

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security 

The Roslin Innovation Centre 

The Hospital for Small Animals 

Equine Veterinary Services 

Farm Animal Services 

Easter Bush Pathology 

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education 

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.