U of S researchers capture first images and video inside a horse's abdomen

Researchers at the U of S inserted a camera pill into a horse's nose and down a tube to the stomach, capturing images of the animal's abdomen. Until now no one was been able to map out a horse's stomach.

Endoscopy technology used in humans transferred over to veterinary medicine

University of Saskatchewan researcher Khan Wahid holding the tiny camera pill with a university student Shahed Khan Mohammed. (University of Saskatchewan)

In order to see what a horse's stomach looks like, a trio of scientists at the University of Saskatchewan teamed up with a horse named Mama, and placed a tiny camera inside of a tube, capturing its journey through Mama's nose to the abdomen.

"This is the first time we're looking at something live inside a horse intestine so we were really fascinated at the time," said Khan Wahid, a health imaging specialist at the University of Saskatchewan.

U of S researchers used a tiny camera pill to map out a horse's stomach 0:43

Having mostly done endoscopic work in humans, Wahid said since nothing like it has been tried on large animals, he figured it was time to find out if he could. 

So a team at the U of S used the same capsule and endoscopic tube they use for humans to get the tiny camera pill inside the horse's digestive tract. But they couldn't simply put the pill in the horses' lunch, because the pill wouldn't last more than a second.
A similar type camera pill was used by University of Saskatchewan researchers to map out a horse's stomach.

"It was always difficult to put that camera inside the horse's mouth because they would chew on it so we had to use a stomach tube and basically flush that capsule," Wahid said, adding they go through the nose because it's the easiest way to get to the intestine and the stomach. A passage through the rear-end of the horse presents too many tight curves for a tube to navigate through.

Once inside researchers crossed their fingers eager to find out if the microscopic antenna inside the pill would transmit and record pictures and video of the journey.

"Once the pill gets inside you don't have any control, basically as soon as you put it into the tube it starts sending images, but you do not have any control over the capsule it just follows the tube," Wahid said.
A horse named Mama from the University of Saskatchewan's College of Veterinary Medicine. Researchers used a tiny camera pill to map out the digestive tract of a horse, something researchers haven't been able to do until now. (University of Saskatchewan)

Despite losing a signal for 30 minutes and then an hour, the team captured a series of images and video allowing them to map out the animals small intestine and stomach, something no one has been able to do until now.

"Whenever I talk to students about the horse abdomen, I put up a picture of a horse and put a big question mark in the middle," said veterinary researcher Dr. Julia Montgomery in the U of S Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

Now they have that information.

Room for improvement

While the mission was a success overall, Wahid said there are a few areas where they can improve the technology to provide an even better picture of the inside of a horse.

Because of the size of the horse Wahid said he's going to try and design sensors on the camera differently in order to capture clearer images as well as design a better antenna to avoid any signal loss. He also thinks he can design a better camera.

"A multiview camera or a camera on both sides of the capsule would be something wonderful for a horse," he said. "We could see a whole 360-degree view of the intestine while its passing through the gut so that would be something wonderful."