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Portable Ultrasound Assists Researchers in Identifying Biomarker for Equine Neurological Disease

UC Davis researchers studying equine neuroaxonal dystrophy/degenerative myeloencephalopathy (eNAD/EDM) use ultrasound-guided needle CSF samples for a biomarker test.
foal lying down

Researchers at the University of California-Davis have analyzed a new tool to aid in the diagnosis of equine neurologic disease—and their work is already helping veterinarians.

Equine neuroaxonal dystrophy/degenerative myeloencephalopathy (eNAD/EDM) is one of the top three causes of spinal ataxia in horses, and a biomarker test is already available at the UC-Davis Veterinary Hospital.

The use of the biomarker to aid in the diagnosis of eNAD/EDM is based on work by Lisa Edwards, DVM, DACVIM-LAIM, an Emergency and Critical Care Fellow at the university, as well as collaborators from UC Davis, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, and the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Their work examining biomarker levels in both normal and neurologic horses has recently been published in the Equine Veterinary Journal. Two advancements in technology helped make this test available to veterinarians.

First, there has been a surge in veterinary medicine to identify and quantify biomarkers in blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) associated with neurologic diseases.  Edwards and colleagues focused on phosphorylated neurofilament heavy protein (pNfH), which is specific to axons, the long fibers that originate from a nerve cell. Increased concentrations of pNfH in blood and CSF are indicative of axonal injury.

Second, researchers used the portable Butterfly iQ Vet* ultrasound for needle guidance when collecting CSF. The team chose standing sedation with an ultrasound-guided spinal tap to collect the CSF.

“Ultrasound needle guidance is vital,” she said. “I wouldn't recommend trying that at all without watching what you're doing the whole time. The Butterfly iQ Vet is a really portable tool to take around, especially in the research setting where we’re going around to various spots. It has really good image quality, especially in the cervical spine area.”

The Butterfly iQ Vet was launched in 2019, which brought the first handheld, single-probe, whole body ultrasound system from human to veterinary medicine. The iQ Vet transmits fast, high-quality images directly to a compatible iPhone or iPad, making it a great match for research requiring CSF samples.

“The image quality for the purposes of our study was excellent,” she said. “It allows me to track the needle quite well so you can really see the contrast. You see exactly where your needle is the whole time.”

The accessibility of the portable ultrasound has been beneficial in other areas of her work.

“I spent some time on our equine ICU service, so we see a lot of colics and horses recovering from GI disease. I frequently go down the barn aisle and check stomach sizes and small intestinal motility—and just monitor patients every day,” she noted. “For our foals, it’s been really helpful for doing bladder checks to the point where we can even teach our ICU technicians to put the probe on the bladder really quick and let us know if there’s an issue. It’s really user friendly and super portable. It’s less cumbersome than rolling the big ultrasound cart all the way down the barn aisle.”

For more information on pNfH testing, visit https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/hospital/support-services/lab-services/clinical-laboratory-services/pnfh.

Veterinarians can request more information about the Butterfly iQ Vet at vet.butterflynetwork.com.

The study by Edwards and colleagues was funded by the Center for Equine Health at UC Davis.

About Butterfly Network

Founded by Dr. Jonathan Rothberg in 2011 and recently listed on the NYSE through a merger with Longview Acquisition Corp (NYSE: BFLY), Butterfly Network is the creator of the world's most advanced handheld, single-probe, whole-body veterinary ultrasound system, Butterfly iQ+ Vet. Butterfly’s mission is to enable universal access to superior medical imaging, and part of that mission is to enable the scanning of every animal at each veterinary visit. Through its proprietary Ultrasound-on-ChipTM technology, Butterfly is paving the way for earlier detection and remote management of health conditions around the world. The Butterfly iQ+ Vet can be purchased online by veterinary practitioners in approved countries at the store or by contacting sales.

Veterinary Business Contact: Jenna Mutch, Sr. Director and Head of Commercial, Veterinary; jmutch@butterflynetwork.com; 530-400-3638

*For licensed veterinarians only.

Ultrasound-on-Chip is a trademark of the Butterfly Network.

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