Diasonics to release upgrade package for UltrasoundAngio at AIUM meeting

Diasonics Ultrasound is hoping to give the ultrasound community something to get excited about at the upcoming American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine meeting in Baltimore. The Milpitas, CA, company will unveil its latest version of

Diasonics Ultrasound is hoping to give the ultrasound community something to get excited about at the upcoming American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine meeting in Baltimore. The Milpitas, CA, company will unveil its latest version of UltrasoundAngio, a technology that produces sonographic images that look like angiograms.

Diasonics has made the technology the centerpiece of its new VST Masters Series release. Compared to the first version, introduced last summer, UltrasoundAngio II is easier to use -- a flip of the switch changes from color Doppler to Angio. The upgraded version also provides improved spatial resolution, suppresses motion artifacts and provides an interface for generating black-and-white films for high-resolution viewing on a light box.

Diasonics expects radiologists to find UltrasoundAngio useful across many routine procedures, according to president Bruce Moore. Other physicians, such as vascular surgeons and urologists, may also find it attractive.

"Primary physicians are intrigued with this technique because it is more intuitive than color Doppler," Moore said. "Vascular surgeons and urologists, for example, are used to looking at angiograms and because this looks more similar to angiograms than it does to color Doppler, it provides them with a comfort factor."

Diasonics released UltrasoundAngio in July 1993 as part of the company's VST Masters Series sonography system (SCAN 6/2/93). The technology prompted several competitors to immediately launch efforts to develop similar products.

ATL of Bothell, WA, has been shipping HDI Doppler Power Imaging on new Ultramark 9 HDI units free of charge since December and has been selling upgrades to the installed base of UM9 HDI customers, according to Ron Leichner, ATL director of marketing management.

Acuson of Mountain View, CA, is conducting clinical tests of its Color Doppler Energy technology. The company has been taking orders since October and expects to begin shipping the product in spring.

"We have about a dozen units around the world in clinical trials to fine-tune the user interface and color maps," said Kerr Spencer, Acuson radiology marketing manager.

Other companies working on the technology include Toshiba and Interspec.

The common denominator of these different versions of ultrasound road-mapping is the use of amplitude rather than frequency to identify the presence rather than the flow of blood. The result is a type of ultrasound perfusion imaging -- a static image showing vessels instead of the dynamic image of blood obtained with color Doppler. Engineers at Diasonics say their unique blood/tissue discriminator is central to UltrasoundAngio's clinical utility. The discriminator makes it relatively easy to trace the vessels against the surrounding tissue.

The second-generation product is expected to begin shipping in April. Customers who had purchased UltrasoundAngio as part of the last release of the VST Masters Series will receive the upgrade free. If bought as an add-on, the technology will cost about $20,000.

UltrasoundAngio II is the latest example of Diasonics' effort to be taken seriously as a major vendor of diagnostic ultrasound systems. The company had been the undisputed market leader in sonography a decade ago, but lost its edge through bad business decisions and stagnant technological development. Moore has spent the last four years undoing past damage by stringing together a series of technological advances.

"Our entire thrust over the last four years has been to demonstrate to the market that we are committed, that we have the key technologies to deliver innovative products and that we can make significant product introductions on a yearly basis," Moore said.

Moore is fighting an uphill battle in the soft ultrasound market. The company has consistently lost money for the past several years and expects more of the same for at least the first half of 1994. The firm reported a net loss for 1993 of $8.5 million on sales of $195.4 million (SCAN 2/16/94).

But achieving short-term profitability is less important than having a vision and a long-range plan to generate significant profits in the future, Moore said.

As a core technology within VST Masters Series, UltrasoundAngio figures prominently in that plan. The company is now developing a clinical protocol that will form the basis for an outcomes research study on the clinical effectiveness of UltrasoundAngio. The study will examine the influence of technology on clinical decision-making and specifically on the benefits of UltrasoundAngio for patients.

Shaping the development of the protocol are data coming in from clinical sites that have been using UltrasoundAngio. The technology is now operating at about 100 sites around the U.S. and another 50 sites overseas.

Controlled experiments with laboratory phantoms have shown that the technique offers significant advantages compared to color Doppler in edge definition, depiction of flow continuity and sensitivity.

Although UltrasoundAngio offers several key advantages over color Doppler, Diasonics regards the two as complementary technologies.

"With color Doppler you are looking at the velocity of blood. With UltrasoundAngio you are looking at perfusion irrespective of velocity," Moore said.

With the click of a button, the Diasonics VST Masters Series system changes from UltrasoundAngio to color or spectral Doppler. A routine use for UltrasoundAngio, therefore, could be in targeting specific sites in the body for examination with spectral Doppler. Because the Angio feature provides a road map of the blood vessels, the operator can quickly identify points of interest.

"UltrasoundAngio can speed up exams," Moore says. "That may be one of the major issues relative to adoption of this technology in the marketplace."