Technology helps humans and horses

Posted on 27. Sep, 2013 by in Academic Departments, Annual Report, Biomedical Engineering, Economic Impact, Healthcare and Medicine, Issues, Research

researchers with horse

Postdoc Sarah Kuehl, School of Veterinary Medicine Associate Professor Sabrina Brounts, and Professor Ray Vanderby are testing their technology on horses, which often experience tendon injuries like human injuries. Photo: David Nevala.

Biomedical Engineering Professor Ray Vanderby always thought there was more information in an ultrasound signal than people were using. Vanderby and his students specialize in tissue healing and regeneration in musculo-skeletal tissues—and they can use all the information about damaged tissue they can get. That’s where ultrasound can be an added benefit. “If we’re only taking a picture of a damaged area and not the rest of the information out of sound waves,” he says, “we’re leaving useful information behind. A picture doesn’t tell you if it’s structurally sound or if it has mechanical integrity. But with sound waves, you can get that information.”

So when his student Hirohito Kobayashi approached him about researching sound wave propagation, Vanderby was interested. In 2007, using the pair’s UW-Madison ultrasound research, Vanderby and Kobayashi co-founded a technology company, Echometrix.

In fall 2012, the FDA approved Echometrix to bring EchoSoft, its first commercial product, to market. EchoSoft is a system that tracks motion, deformation and ultrasonic echo magnitude change for use in conjunction with ultrasound images. Physicians can use EchoSoft to gain a quantitative assessment of the stiffness of muscles, ligaments and tendons to help them diagnose and treat injuries.

The pair originally envisioned helping treat injuries suffered by workers, soldiers and human athletes. However, the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine has found EchoSoft to offer reliable, valuable results for its own patients. “We’re applying this technology to athletic horses,” Vanderby says. “There aren’t a lot of animals that get the same tendon injuries that humans get, but horses do. And since horse owners have so much invested in them, knowing when there’s an injury and when it’s healed is very valuable information.”

Vanderby believes that EchoSoft’s universality will help to expand its applications beyond diagnosing musculoskeletal tissue damage in humans and horses. By being aware of the ultrasound hardware currently in use, the team at Echometrix designed EchoSoft to work with virtually any computer that receives ultrasound images. “Commercially, we’re
focused on ligaments and tendons because that’s what’s available in my lab,” Vanderby says. “But that’s just a starting point.”

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