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Esaote builds unit to catch niche MRI trend


Esaote Biomedica of Genoa, Italy, will reestablish itself as acommercial MRI manufacturer next month with the introduction ofa small-bore 0.2-tesla permanent magnet scanner dedicated to jointimaging. The midsized imaging vendor chose to focus on niche

Esaote Biomedica of Genoa, Italy, will reestablish itself as acommercial MRI manufacturer next month with the introduction ofa small-bore 0.2-tesla permanent magnet scanner dedicated to jointimaging. The midsized imaging vendor chose to focus on niche MRIto better compete with giant multimodality suppliers--and to capitalizeon a trend toward specialized applications of MRI technology,said Andrea Oberti, Esaote general manager.

"We feel that the (MRI) market will develop in two areas,"Oberti told SCAN. "One will be continued whole-body applications,mainly at medium to high field. Then there will be certain dedicatedMRI systems that will perform more effectively in their areasat a lower price than whole-body MRI."

Although the price for Esaote's Artoscan MRI system has notyet been determined, the firm expects to sell it for only slightlymore than a high-end ultrasound system would cost, he said. Theunit will not be much larger than an ultrasound scanner. Artoscanis described as "desk-size," with a footprint of 10sq. ft.

Esaote will introduce Artoscan first at the Italian Societyof Medical Radiology in November, followed later that month witha works-in-progress display at the Radiological Society of NorthAmerica meeting in Chicago. A 510(k) application has been filedwith the Food and Drug Administration.

Apart from its cardiac and neurological instruments business,the company manufactures ultrasound equipment and is a distributorof Hitachi ultrasound, CT and MRI in Italy.

Esaote operates in the U.S. through its Indianapolis subsidiaryBiosound (SCAN 12/4/91). No decision has been made on the detailsof the Italian vendor's distribution strategy in the U.S. market,Oberti said. Esaote will have its own booth at the RSNA technicalexhibition.

This is not the first MRI system manufactured by Esaote. Thevendor developed and installed a whole-body resistive MRI systemin 1984 and a second superconductive system two years later. Ithas multiple installed sites of this earlier MRI equipment, allin Italy, he said.

Evaluation of its first MRI program, however, led Esaote towithdraw from whole-body development and look for a niche whereit could maneuver around Siemens, GE and the other large suppliersof whole-body scanners, Oberti said.

Esaote designed both the electronics and magnet for Artoscan.

The permanent magnet is based on different technology thanthe Sumitomo magnet used in Hitachi's mid- to low-field MRI systems.Image quality is equivalent to whole-body MRI scanners operatingat the same field strength, he said.

Artoscan will offer dynamic cine-loop studies, three-dimensionalas well as two-dimensional data acquisition, and a range of sequencesoffered in medical MRI systems, including spin echo, gradientecho and inversion recovery. Esaote has also developed a specialsequence for the MRI system labeled multiplanar ortho scout, Obertisaid. The unit operates on an IBM-compatible computer platform.

A 1990 study by the American Hospital Association indicatedthat joint studies--knees, ankles, hips, shoulders, elbows andwrists--make up 11% of total MRI procedures in hospitals. Thisproportion is likely to increase as niche MRI lowers the costof orthopedic studies and clinical results indicate the advantagesof MRI over other noninvasive joint imaging modalities, he said.

Esaote will aim Artoscan first at the hospital radiology market,with claims that this dedicated unit can:

  • free up busy larger systems for neurological and whole-bodyimaging; and

  • perform joint imaging better and less expensively.

Following hospital radiology, Esaote will target orthopedicclinics and sports medicine applications, Oberti said.

In Europe, Esaote will first build on its already establishedMRI base in Italy and then expand using subsidiary companies inFrance and Germany, he said.

"These markets are smaller than the U.S. but interesting,"he said.

Esaote is the leading Italian-owned supplier of medical electronicequipment. The vendor grew rapidly over the past five years. Totalsales in 1991 were $160 million, compared to $60 million in 1987.

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