Hitachi readies 1.5T short-bore scanner for RSNA launch

November 21, 2005

Hitachi Medical Systems of America became a player in the MR marketplace nearly a decade ago with the popularization of midfield open scanners. Its presence in North America has faded, however, as interest in high-field scanning has grown. At the RSNA meeting, Hitachi will try to emerge from the shadows with the release of a 1.5T short-bore magnet.

Hitachi Medical Systems of America became a player in the MR marketplace nearly a decade ago with the popularization of midfield open scanners. Its presence in North America has faded, however, as interest in high-field scanning has grown. At the RSNA meeting, Hitachi will try to emerge from the shadows with the release of a 1.5T short-bore magnet.

The new Echelon scanner combines the latest generation of compact magnet design with high-performance gradients capable of achieving a 30-mT gradient strength and 150-T/m/sec slew rate. It features an eight-channel architecture.

Hitachi executives expect the system to begin shipping by the end of first quarter 2006. Sales efforts will focus primarily on existing Hitachi MR customers.

"We are interested in supporting our customers with products that round out their capabilities, not only in MR but in other technologies," said Sheldon Schaffer, vice president and general manager for Hitachi's MR business.

Over the last several years, Hitachi Medical Systems of America has added PET (DI SCAN 6/26/02) and PET/CT (DI SCAN 7/16/04) offerings and, most recently, CT (DI SCAN 5/17/05). The company has long been a provider of ultrasound equipment.

The new MR product will be equipped with pulse sequences familiar to the Hitachi MR installed base, namely Equilibrium fast spin echo and SARGE steady-state gradient echo. It will also feature several new capabilities, including time-resolved MR angiography and a radial-type acquisition technique.

The company's RAPID parallel imaging technique, first deployed on its midfield scanners, has been adapted for use on Echelon's brain, body, vascular, and orthopedic coils.

The patient handling system includes a table with nine feet of travel, multiple coil connection points, a noise reduction system, and other patient comfort features.

Echelon's Vertex Computer System includes a graphical user interface, new multiprocessor CPU, and a reconstruction engine that promotes a high level of clinical efficiency.

Hitachi will be treading a path blazed a few years ago by Toshiba America Medical Systems, which made a name for itself with the Opart, a 3.5T [Greg: 0.35?]open superconducting scanner. Opart sales have stumbled since the late 1990s, but Toshiba America reversed its downward slide in the North American MR marketplace with the commercial launch in 2003 of its Vantage 1.5T short-bore system.

The magnet built into Hitachi's Echelon is supplied by Oxford Magnet Technology, the same company that provides the ultracompact magnet for Toshiba's Excelart Vantage. (Located in the U.K., Oxford Magnet is a wholly owned subsidiary of Siemens Medical Systems.) But the magnet being built into Echelon is not the same as the one that powers the Vantage, said Shawn Etheridge, Hitachi MR marketing manager.

"The magnet on the Toshiba is 1.4 meters, and ours is another 100 mm," he said.

The market for compact MR scanners began to heat up last year with the entry of Siemens' Magnetom Espree, which sports the shortest magnet length of any commercial scanner, just 1.25 meters. This setup allows completion of more than 60% of exams with the patient's head outside the bore DI SCAN 6/30/04).

Such short-bore magnets improve patient comfort by offering a less enclosed environment. This has led some pundits to wonder whether short-bore magnets will decrease demand for open magnets.

Echelon will have a minimal impact on sales of Hitachi's 0.7T Altaire, an open design scanner that was unveiled at the RSNA meeting four years ago (DI SCAN 1/17/01), or its mainstay midfield open Airis product, according to Schaffer.

"There remains a need for open MR systems in the marketplace, but there is also a need for high-performance systems on the order of 1.5T and 3T," he said. "Echelon provides our customers the opportunity to be supported by Hitachi with open products and at 1.5T, as well as with future MR offerings, as we continue our product development."

Market requirements for Echelon originated in the U.S., according to Schaffer. He credits a large number of people in the Hitachi U.S. organization as being integral in establishing the context for the development of this product.