GE unveils quadslice SPECT/CT as work-in-progress at SNM meeting

July 18, 2005

GE Healthcare has taken the first cautious step toward hybridizing a gamma camera and a multislice CT. The company unveiled at the Society of Nuclear Medicine meeting in June a quadslice CT mated to a dual-head Infinia gamma camera.

GE Healthcare has taken the first cautious step toward hybridizing a gamma camera and a multislice CT. The company unveiled at the Society of Nuclear Medicine meeting in June a quadslice CT mated to a dual-head Infinia gamma camera.

The work-in-progress has not yet passed FDA review, will not enter the U.S. market for at least a year, and may yet include more than four slices, according to Ian D. Brown, Americas sales manager for GE nuclear medicine products. But more notable than the uncertainties are the known specifications.

The quadslice SPECT/CT, like the company's current commercial offering, the single-slice Infinia Hawkeye, incorporates what detractors call a nondiagnostic CT.

The CT onboard the Infinia Hawkeye 4 offers markedly better resolution than the one onboard the Infinia Hawkeye, producing 5-mm slices rather than 10-mm slices. This resolution, however, is nowhere near the submillimeter state-of-the-art images produced by the multislice CTs designed for stand-alone operation or for service as part of either Philips' or Siemens' latest SPECT/CTs. Brown nevertheless believes this offering would give much of the market what it needs.

"Customers said they need faster and better resolution and (this machine) will satisfy that, taking them from a single 10-mm slice to four 5-mm slices," he said. "It cuts the acquisition time in half and doubles the resolution."

Brown emphasized that the Infinia Hawkeye 4 is just a work-in-progress and could still change. By the time a commercial version is ready to ship, company engineers may have added more slices. Brown did not speculate as to whether the resolution would be improved over the device shown at the SNM meeting. The company clearly is advancing its design iteratively rather than in quantum leaps, as its competitors are.

At the SNM meeting, Philips Medical Systems announced plans to bring a 64-slice SPECT/CT to market in 12 to 18 months. The new Philips system, designed to be the flagship of its Precedence family, would complement six- and 16-slice versions already on the market.

Siemens Medical Solutions underscored its commitment to hybrids at the SNM meeting with the introduction of Symbia S. The SPECT-only submission is designed to facilitate a later combination with multislice CT. Siemens already offers SPECT/CT in single-, dual-, and six-slice configurations as part of its Symbia TruePoint portfolio.

Philips and Siemens arguably have taken the high ground in SPECT/CT, and, if the Infinia Hawkeye 4 is an accurate indicator, they will maintain that position for some time. GE, however, is the undisputed leader in SPECT/CT when it comes to installations. Philips and Siemens have each installed several high-performance hybrids in the year since they unveiled their products, but neither can come close to the 500 Hawkeyes (some including Infinia gamma cameras, some attached to an earlier camera called Millennium VG) that GE has installed in the five years since pioneering this technology.

GE's dedication to thick-slice CT is motivated by its interest in keeping the cost of the unit within the reach of nuclear medicine departments.

"As soon as I put an advanced CT on this system, I have to charge the same price as my CT colleagues," Brown said.

He expects a quadslice system configured along the lines of the Infinia Hawkeye 4 to cost about the same as the current single-slice SPECT/CT: $450,000.

Sticking with a low-performance CT scanner offers other advantages, he said. Room preparation is less demanding, and the cost for a CT service contract is less imposing, about $10,000 a year.

With cost a major issue for practitioners of nuclear medicine, GE is playing it safe. Judging from the results so far regarding the single-slice Hawkeye, the company's gambit seems to be paying off.