Imaging partnership benefits two- and four-legged patients

Health & Wellness Section 2014

By Karen Templeton

MSU College of Veterinary Medicine


A special partnership focused on using imaging technology to treat brain tumors in cats and dogs shows promise for treating human patients.

Researchers at Veterinary Specialty Center, or VSC, an affiliate of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine and MSU’s Institute for Imaging and Analytical Technologies, are using imaging technology to understand more about canine and feline brain tumors. VSC is housed within the Premier Imaging complex in Starkville, just a few miles from the veterinary college. Premier treats human patients, while VSC treats animal patients.

Dr. Jennifer Gambino, an assistant professor in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, said imaging is becoming an increasingly important tool in both research and clinical care. Today’s imaging technologies can provide incredibly detailed information about brain and brain tumor structure and function, right down to the molecular level.

Gambino uses an advanced magnetic resonance imaging technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy, or MRS, to evaluate brain tumor types in dogs and cats.

“We are using advanced MRI techniques to get an in-depth view of brains in normal dogs and cats and also in those with brain tumors,” Gambino said. “These advanced techniques help us identify the biomarkers that are present in normal brain tissue and in brain tissue with different types of tumors.”

Working with Gambino are clinical professor Dr. Andy Shores, assistant clinical professor Dr. Michaela Beasley, and Premier’s Gary Sorrells, who is head MRI technologist on the project and a dual human and animal MRI technician.

The team uses a multifaceted approach to evaluate each patient.

“We evaluate the patient’s MRI brain images, the biomarkers that are present, and the patient’s clinical presentation, and we use all the information to determine whether or not surgery is the best course of treatment for the patient,” Gambino said.

Gambino said the team is always striving to improve the management of brain tumor cases and projects so that one day, these advanced techniques will replace invasive tissue sampling.

“Our ultimate goal is to be able to reliably obtain a noninvasive brain biopsy,” Gambino said. “Using this specialized imaging and interpreting it down to the very last biomarker helps give us a really clear picture of what is going on.”

Shores, a board-certified veterinary neurologist and neurosurgeon, said patients at the center are already benefiting from this research.

“The goal is to identify different types of tumors based on the MRS and be confident in our decision to recommend surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these,” Shores said. “With Dr. Gambino’s project, we are making progress toward that goal.”

The center gives veterinarians in the region access to the best diagnostic equipment available in human medicine when they request consultations for their difficult neurological and neurosurgical cases.

“We saw the unique opportunity to start something new and special at MSU by partnering with Premier Imaging,” Shores said. “It has become a strong expansion of neurology, neuroimaging and neurosurgery services that offers students and clients something unique. We have referrals from many areas of the Southeast now.”

The goal of the research is to improve canine and feline health, but the benefits may be shared with the human patients who are seen at Premier and similar centers around the world.

“We are collecting these images and data and are sharing them with others in the field,” Gambino said. “The images give surgeons a good inference as to what is going on in animal and human patients before they perform complicated brain surgeries. Having that type of information up front can make a big difference when developing treatment and surgical plans.”

Gambino said MSU’s is one of only a handful of veterinary facilities in the country with the type of equipment, specialized software and trained personnel needed to do this type of work.

“We have a team of specialized people working toward the same goals. Years of experience and training in advanced imaging and research techniques drive this project. This is a great place to be,” she said.