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GE takes aim at cardiovascular PET/CT


GE Healthcare hopes to open a new branch of clinical application for its PET/CT systems with the commercial launch later this year of its 64-slice Discovery VCT.

GE Healthcare hopes to open a new branch of clinical application for its PET/CT systems with the commercial launch later this year of its 64-slice Discovery VCT.

Nearly all PET/CT applications are currently in oncology, applications that are more than sufficiently addressed by 16- or fewer slice CTs. The Discovery VCT, scheduled for routine delivery in the fourth quarter 2006, will take GE's PET/CT offerings beyond oncology to cardiovascular applications.

"Today one out of five patients has ambiguous stress perfusion studies," said Karthik Kuppusamy, Ph.D., general manager for GE's nuclear medicine PET/CT and cyclotron business in the Americas. "These people are big and difficult to image, and that is why stress perfusion is inconclusive. PET/CT will find the answers for them."

Shown as a work-in-progress at the 2004 RSNA meeting, Discovery VCT made the jump to prime time just a month and a half ago in Chicago. The first clinical unit is set for installation around April at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Between then and the end of the year when the unit enters full production, the company expects to install several more evaluation sites.

"We'll use these to see who really wants to do cutting-edge cardiovascular imaging with our PET/CTs," Kuppusamy said.

The 64-slice hybrid will compete head-on with the Siemens biograph 64 and Philips Gemini GXL. Both were launched in 2004.

Integrating GE's high-resolution PET and 64-slice CT was not the challenge that kept the company from coming to market sooner. Rather, engineers needed to develop a workstation that could streamline workflow. The Dimension Console was unveiled at the Society of Nuclear Medicine meeting last year and has since been built into the Discovery VCT. Kuppusamy describes the Dimension as the "fundamental enabler" of GE's newest hybrid. It also ships with the company's Discovery ST products.

"Without the Dimension Console, you will be handicapped," he said. "You will acquire the data, but by the time you make the decision, it will be the next day."

The company also wanted to gain routine clinical experience with its 64-slice CT. That has been done, according to Kuppusamy, as more than 500 of these systems have now been installed worldwide.

Each of these 64-slice CTs can be upgraded to the Discovery VCT configuration, he said, as can Discovery STs with fewer slices. More than 500 Discovery STs have been installed worldwide as well.

The upgrade will take place in the field, adding a high-resolution PET scanner to an existing VCT or subbing a VCT for the CT in the Discovery ST.

Sixty-four-slice CTs show extraordinary detail in coronary CT angiography and promise to complement functional assessments of the heart that are possible with PET. Slowing the adoption of this technology, however, will be the lack of an optimal PET imaging agent for cardiac applications.

Rubidium currently supports myocardial perfusion studies with PET, but it is costly and cumbersome to produce. The radionuclide is created at clinical sites using a "generator" - radioactive strontium that rapidly decays into rubidium.

GE launched the era of fusion imaging in 1999 with its SPECT/CT Millennium VG Hawkeye. Its PET/CT Discovery LS followed two years later.

Over the years, GE has invested more than $160 million in the R&D of hybrid imaging technology, according to the company. It holds 25 related patents.

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