GE healthcare is a step closer to marketing a multislice SPECT/CT, but don't expect to see a commercial product at this year's RSNA meeting.
As it did at the Society of Nuclear Medicine meeting in June, GE will show its quadslice Infinia Hawkeye 4 as a work-in-progress. The company has cleared the four-slice option with the FDA (DI SCAN 11/7/05), however, and is hatching plans to ship three or four units to evaluation sites. Most will be in the U.S.
The first are due to arrive early next year, said Ian Brown, Americas sales manager for GE nuclear medicine products. Commercial launch will likely coincide with the 2006 SNM meeting.
The new system is designed to complement the company's single-slice SPECT/CT Hawkeye/Infinia. Neither the single- nor the new quadslice scanner will be equipped with a high-performance CT component.
"The tube is optimized for the job for which it was designed: attenuation correction and lesion localization," Brown said.
When the system was shown in June, GE executives had not settled on its final configuration. At the time, Brown held out the prospect of increasing the number of slices. He is maintaining wiggle room to offer units with more slices, if the market desires such a device in future.
GE pioneered the concept of hybrid scanning, integrating SPECT and CT in 1999 in a configuration dubbed simply Hawkeye. The system was built around the Millennium VG dual-head gamma camera. It was a direct offshoot of technology obtained during GE's acquisition of nuclear medicine assets from Elscint in the months leading up to the offering.
In late 2000, GE purchased a dedicated nuclear medicine company called SMV, which developed gamma cameras with exceptional detector robotics and mechanical flexibility, according to Brown.
"We combined the best of both worlds and made a new platform, the Infinia," he said.
Although the gamma camera was enhanced, the CT component, which fits inside the gamma camera, remained relatively unchanged until now. The new Infinia Hawkeye 4 has a CT component developed specifically for the product, Brown said. It offers twice the resolution and twice the coverage of its predecessor.
Each rotation generates four 5-mm slices rather than the 10-mm slices found on the single-slice hybrid. Infinia Hawkeye 4 achieves a 20-mm axial coverage with each sweep versus 10 mm on the earlier system.
The CT is integrated with the Infinia gamma camera, using the same acquisition station, patient table, and slip-ring gantry as the currently marketed version.
Siemens and Philips are each offering multislice CTs hooked up with gamma cameras. GE could easily do the same, Brown said, but the company has resisted the urge to do so.
"It is very easy in the medical business to run after your competition," he said. "You see it in the CT slice wars, as well as with other modalities. We have made a conscious effort to go slowly to determine the best configuration for the best clinical use for our customers' needs."
Philips' and Siemens' SPECT/CTs provide submillimeter spatial resolution, but they are more expensive. By sticking with a thick-slice CT, GE keeps the cost of its hybrid down.
Nuclear medicine departments tend to be very budget conscious, according to Brown, and the new product should please them. Infinia Hawkeye 4 will be priced at between $400,000 and $500,000, the same range as the single-slice system. How the entry of the quadslice product will affect the price of the single-slice version is not known.
Because service costs are typically 8% to 10% of the capital cost of a medical device, a service contract on the Infinia Hawkeye 4 will be substantially lower than a contract on its million-dollar-plus higher performance competitors.
Infinia Hawkeye 4 will have other advantages. Competing multislice hybrids are heavier, bulkier, and more resource-intensive than the Infinia Hawkeye 4. This limits where they can be placed, while increasing the cost of room preparation and operation.
"We designed (Infinia Hawkeye 4) for nuclear medicine people, not CT people, in the sense that nuclear medicine people often have a smaller room size and do not necessarily have the funding or resources to shield the room, put in air conditioning, and what have you," Brown said.
More powerful multislice SPECT/CTs may be lurking somewhere in GE's future, but the CT component will have to fit within the physical constraints dictated by the gamma camera.
"Remember, we have 550 Infinia platforms installed globally. We want to make sure that whatever we do is retrofitable to them," Brown said.