Madison Startup Asto Tests Its CT Scanner on a Standing Horse

Asto CT, a Madison, WI-based startup developing a computed tomography (CT) device for performing scans of animals, has taken a major step forward this spring in its effort to commercialize its machine. The results could impact the field of CT technology for veterinarians and other specialists.

In late April, one of the company’s scanners was used in a test on a live horse for the first time, says David Ergun, co-founder and CEO of Asto CT. No images were taken during the test, he says. Instead, it was aimed at demonstrating to veterinarians and other observers that horses under mild sedation would stand still and tolerate the noise while the scanner is in use.

“Equine vets are comfortable with CT technology, but they wanted to see how the horse reacted,” Ergun says.

The test took place in Boxboro, MA, at the headquarters of PhotoDiagnostic Systems, one of Asto CT’s development partners.

Ergun says that his company is planning to conduct a second test on a live horse—this time with the CT scanner taking images—in late June or early July.

Asto CT’s device, known as Equina, is designed to allow animals to remain standing while it looks inside their legs, heads, and necks. One reason for this is so that veterinarians don’t have to put animals under general anesthesia, which they sometimes do not come out of well, as Ergun explained to Xconomy in December.

A video of the test in April shows the horse being injected with a sedative, and then two handlers walking it forward until its front legs were in a proper position to be imaged. After that was complete—a scan takes between 20 and 30 seconds, Ergun says—the animal had its hind legs, then its head and neck, placed into imaging position. The horse wore a mask fitted with cups called “blinkers” that Ergun says are designed to make it more difficult to look down.

“This is a big move forward for CT technology,” Carl Kirker-Head, a large animal surgeon at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and an advisor to Asto CT, says in the video. “As a veterinary diagnostician, we’ve been looking towards doing CT scans without general anesthesia as a desirable place to be.”

Asto CT plans to have four to six Equina machines built by the end of the year, Ergun says. He expects they’ll sell for about $650,000 each. The startup announced late last year that Solon, OH-based Universal Medical Systems will be the exclusive distributor of Asto CT’s products in the U.S.

Launched in 2015, the company has now raised more than $1.1 million from investors, Ergun says. Backers include PhotoDiagnostic Systems; Champaign, IL-based Serra Ventures; and members and friends of Asto CT’s founding team. Its plan is to raise another $2 million after it makes its first sale. The company’s target customers include specialty equine veterinarians, Ergun says.

According to Asto CT’s website, Equina was used to scan limbs from a horse cadaver in December. Still, the stakes will be higher when the startup conducts its next test on a living, breathing horse, Ergun says.

“We are imaging a live animal,” he says, adding that the device “is not some little widget—it’s a big CT scanner.”

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