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Une extension et de nouveaux équipements pour le CIRALE dans le Calvados !

Created in 1999 at Goustranville in the Norman county of Calvados, CIRALE has been tirelessly innovating in its various activities – training, research, diagnosis – thanks to successive acquisitions of state-of-the-art imaging machines. Attracting many internationally recognised horses and specialists, it has recently strengthened its technical capacity with its Unité d’Imagerie Sectionnelle (or Cross-sectional Imaging Unit), inaugurated on Wednesday 18 July 2018 by the Normandy Region and Calvados County Council. This Unit, comprising two machines that are unique in France, as well as a track and an outdoor arena, make CIRALE the finest technical centre in Europe and one of the two leading such centres in the world for imaging and research on musculoskeletal problems in horses.


Meet Professor Fabrice Audigié, Director of CIRALE since 2014. 

What is CIRALE ?

It’s the Centre d’Imagerie et de recherche sur les Affections Locomotrices Equines [or Centre for Imaging and Research on Equine Musculoskeletal Illnesses]. It’s an off-site branch of ENVA, the Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire d’Alfort [Alfort National Veterinary School], one of the four French veterinary colleges. Historically, the whole site belonged to the Normandy Region, which then formed a public-private enterprise with the Calvados County Council. We now occupy the site and our mission is to administer the Centre, generate its work and develop the School on three strategic axes. The first is teaching: we train French veterinary students and practising vets undergoing on-the-job training. Next, we’re also research teachers: we develop research projects focused on equine musculoskeletal problems. Our third activity is developing diagnostics destined for the equine sector. This was the foremost wish of the Normandy Region – it wanted to provide this sector, and notably its trainers, riders, owners and breeders, with a state-of-the-art diagnostic centre focusing on horses’ musculoskeletal problems. Our role is to identify the causes of pain and to diagnose them to try and treat them the best we can so that the animal doesn’t suffer any more and also so that it can get back to work in good condition, allowing it to match or even improve on its past performances. The Alfort School is very happy with this partnership – it represents a unique opportunity for a School to be supported in such a manner.

What innovative equipment has been inaugurated recently here ?

We’ve strengthened our imaging capacity with new techniques and two new machines in a new wing baptised the Unité d’Imagerie Sectionnelle. We have a scanner equipped with a 90cm opening, the biggest diameter for a scanner that exists today, one of the first of its kind in Europe and the first in France. It can be used in two ways: on a horse lying down asleep (employing a very innovative table that we’ve developed); or on a horse that’s standing up but tranquilised, to scan its head. The idea is to have more in-depth imaging to detect a horse’s lesions better and see how to treat it. This way, we’re able to get views of its teeth, its sinuses and its cranium… allowing us to reduce the number of times anesthetics have to be used. The second machine is a new open, tilting MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner. Its magnet, the largest element, weighing 8 tonnes, can pivot 90°, allowing us to scan a horse’s knee, a joint that often needs attention. This is the only MRI machine that exists [in France] today capable of doing this. There were only three in Europe before this, in Germany, England and Belgium. The fourth in Europe is in Normandy !

Le scanner pour chevaux ©CIRALE – EnvA

When will the new machines enter into service ?

The machines are in the process of undergoing adjustments and will be put into service for clients’ horses with the new season. We work above all on case referrals, that’s to say that vets send us horses with problems they can’t manage to diagnose or because they need access to our techniques. We try to find out what’s wrong with the horse and then get back to them with proposals for treatment. That allows them to make the most of our tools and to realise how useful they are. As time goes by, the price of such machines may go down, and some will then be able to afford such equipment themselves. We’re the first to have obtained approval from the [French] nuclear safety authority: as in the past with previous machines, we will serve as a reference. That will help private clinics and it’s another way also of supporting their economic development, transferring know-how bit by bit. The idea isn’t to be in competition, but to work intelligently together.

What is their importance ?

Today, the main reason for economic losses in the sector is very frequently problems with horses suffering from lameness, that’s to say from musculoskeletal problems. The idea, for the Normandy Region, is to be able to propose a cutting-edge centre of international standing in this area of expertise. We receive very many horses from across France, but 10% of our consultations come from other European countries such as Belgium, Italy, Spain or Portugal… We have exceptional imaging equipment, mainly derived from human medicine, but adapted to horses and developed via research work carried out by top scientists with specific skills. Our Centre is also internationally recognised for its expertise. Italian vets working in Dubai are being trained here as we speak. A fortnight ago, we received an Australian delegation wishing to develop an imagining machine with us.


What makes CIRALE an almost unique centre in the world ?


Besides our new machines, the Region has bought a further seven hectares of land here, so today the site covers around 20 hectares. As well as fields in which the horses can graze, we’ve put in a 700m track to observe race horses, trotters and flat-racing horses in action. That allows us to view the horses in real situations. Beside the track, we’ve also got a fine outdoor arena measuring 40m by 70m in which horses can be made to jump and where tests can be carried out using smart saddles. We’re in a research partnership with the company CWD to develop a smart saddle as part of a project supported by the [French] National Research Agency over the next three yearsOur Cross-sectional Imaging Unit with its two machines that are unique in France, the track, and the outdoor arena make CIRALE the finest centre in Europe for imaging and research on horses’ musculoskeletal problems. At a global level, there are just two sites that have reached this level, one in the United States of America, and the other, ours, in Normandy. 


Why is it appropriate for Normandy to have such facilities ?

The equine sector is very important to the Normandy economy. Given the stud farms and climate, horse breeding is very well established here and can’t be transferred elsewhere… Normandy also boasts the capacity to breed all types of horses, which is particularly interesting for us! Here, you’ll find race horses, trotters, flat-racing horses, showjumpers and horses for breeding… It’s rare to find a region that produces showjumpers, some to a very high standard, like at Deauville, where the finest French horses are trained. For us, it’s very useful, because we can train students in all sorts of cases and that allows us to compare horses and their different roles. Normandy has something quite unique about it, in that it’s able to host all the equestrian disciplines within the one region, and to a very high level. 


  • The site was founded by Professor Jean-Marie Denoix, a research teacher at Alfort Veterinary School. He was asked by the Normandy Region to lead the creation of a state-of-the-art centre to deal with horses’ musculoskeletal problems. In 2014, after the World Equestrian Games, Jean-Marie Denoix handed over the overall direction of CIRALE to Fabrice Audigié, then director of the imaging centre. 
  • 18 people work every day on the site, including seven specialist vets and clinicians from the Alfort Veterinary School. CIRALE receives students from the Alfort Veterinary School, as well as from Nantes Veterinary School (ONIRIS) and the Toulouse one when they specialise in imaging and musculoskeletal problems in horses.
  • CIRALE has been a cutting-edge centre since its inception, equipping itself with imaging equipment that’s been unique in France.
  • In 1999, it was pioneering in the use of bone scintigraphy, a technique in nuclear medicine used to detect painful areas in a horse’s skeleton. This machine allowed CIRALE to play a piloting role in the field up to 2009.
  • In 2000, the site became one of the first three in the world to equip itself with an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner for horses. 
  • In 2010, CIRALE invested in two new pieces of equipment to observe horses in action: a high-speed conveyor belt and a second MRI scanner, this one smaller, to be able to examine horses standing up. 
  • In 2008, the Normandy Region launched the second phase in the Centre’s development. In partnership with the Alfort Veterinary School and the teams at CIRALE, a 10 to 20 year plan was drawn up to ensure it remains at the forefront in innovation. This plan led to the new pieces of equipment being inaugurated on 18 July 2018.

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