Aging Ultrasound Machine Finds New Life Scanning Furry, Feathered Patients at Wildlife Center

August 27, 2008

Aug. 27, 2008 — The GE Logiq 700 MR was a pretty nifty machine back in 1997, when University of Virginia biomedical engineer William Walker purchased it for $100,000 and installed it in his lab.

But 11 years later, the state of the art had left the old machine in its technological wake. With Walker's lab packing up this summer to move a couple doors down the hall, he decided the old scanner, roughly the size of a dorm refrigerator with a computer on top, would not be making the trip. "It had reached a point where we weren't going to do research on it anymore," he said.

Walker might easily have dispatched it to Surplus Property without much thought, but he knew the scanner still had the potential to be useful – in the right setting.

Meanwhile, at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, a veterinary hospital located just outside Waynesboro that cares for injured and orphaned critters from around the state, Dr. Elizabeth Daut was bracing herself for autumn's annual procession of battered raptors.

The fall migration brings thousands of magnificent birds to Virginia's skies. Unfortunately, scores of them end up alongside Virginia's roadways.

The chain of doom begins with an apple core tossed blithely out of a car window, which in turn attracts a rodent, which then catches the sharp eyes of a passing raptor. The bird swoops down for an easy meal, only to find its flight path intersecting with the path of a vehicle.

At the height of the raptor migration, the Wildlife Center may take in 10 injured birds a day, typically suffering from head trauma. Detached retinas — a mortal wound for a creature that depends on its eyesight for hunting — are very common, but hard to diagnose. Without an ultrasound, it can take two or three weeks of stressful captivity for an injured eye to clear enough to peer through and make the diagnosis, Daut said.

She wished she could get her hands on a scanner, like the ones she had seen at the summer meeting of the American Association of Avian Veterinarians.

You can probably see where this is headed.

Walker's scanner had been modified slightly for research use; to retrofit it for human use and have it recertified would have been prohibitively expensive for a machine he estimated is now worth $5,000. But it could be easily adapted for use on animals.

"It's perfectly functional — it works great," Walker said. "It's significantly better than any system currently sold for veterinary use."

He deputized doctoral student Kevin Owen to find the scanner a new home. Owen, in turn, contacted Patricia Foley, who heads up U.Va.'s animal welfare program. They quickly determined that state surplus-property rules would allow them to donate it only to a non-profit.

Foley quickly thought of the Wildlife Center, which leapt at the opportunity. The state-mandated formalities went quickly, with an assist from U.Va. surplus property manager Bobby Carefoot, and the scanner made its move over Afton Mountain.

"I was the go-between, but credit goes to Kevin for thinking about it in the first place," Foley said. "A lot of people would have put it in surplus and not thought about it."

Daut and her colleagues at the Wildlife Center are "very excited," she said. Besides peering into the eyes of injured raptors, she expects to use the scanner for almost any organ that requires imaging, including the ultrasound function that most humans are familiar with – checking out the bellies of mothers-to-be, from mice to bears.

The whole process was "really rewarding," Owen said.

"It took a little bit of effort, but not only did we get rid of a big piece of equipment, but we got it into the hands of a nonprofit that can use it."

-- By Dan Heuchert