IT and biosciences combine to drive innovation in medical imaging

June 13, 2005

Advances in IT and genomic science will substantially affect the future of medical imaging technology, according to Dr. Jacques Souquet, senior vice president and chief scientific and technology officer for Philips Medical Systems. Speaking at the British Institute of Radiology in London, Souquet outlined Philips’ vision of smarter, faster imaging solutions to meet today’s demands for real-time data processing and tomorrow’s expectations of individualized healthcare.

Advances in IT and genomic science will substantially affect the future of medical imaging technology, according to Dr. Jacques Souquet, senior vice president and chief scientific and technology officer for Philips Medical Systems. Speaking at the British Institute of Radiology in London, Souquet outlined Philips' vision of smarter, faster imaging solutions to meet today's demands for real-time data processing and tomorrow's expectations of individualized healthcare.

"If there is one parameter today that has a tremendous impact on our life, it is time. The world is in overdrive," he said. "There is no sign of braking or slowing down. Everything is going very, very fast."

Increased computer processing power is already boosting image-processing capabilities, Souquet said. In interventional radiology, algorithms highlight stents and determine their positions in seconds rather than minutes. Adaptive filtering techniques, which process sonographic pixels individually, now work in real-time to reduce speckle, increase contrast resolution, and improve border delineation. Volume measurements can be computed on the fly from 3D reconstructions, obviating the time needed to revert back to 2D data sets.

Intelligent computing will play an even greater role in the future, as doctors grapple with yet more data, Souquet said. A five-minute lung CT acquired on a 64-slice scanner can produce 2000 images. Software already helps by screening the data for pulmonary nodules and alerting radiologists to suspect areas. But there is still scope for the computer to do more.

"In a few years it is my strong belief that the 'D' for detection in CAD will be replaced by a 'D' for diagnosis," he said. "There is more intelligence that we can build into the system that will enable the machine to evolve."

The rise of molecular medicine will also drive advances in medical imaging technology, Souquet said. Considerable work is under way to hone in vitro tests of biomarkers, develop effective gene-based therapies, and improve the specificity of drug delivery. Parallel development of molecular imaging technology is needed to detect and diagnose disease at an early stage, enhance understanding of disease mechanisms, and contribute to the development of novel therapies.

The potential financial gains are significant, especially given the strong patient lobby for targeted healthcare, Souquet said. But returns on investing in molecular medicine cannot be guaranteed.

The big dilemma for innovators is how to convince shareholders to accept the risk of investing in new technology, according to Souquet.

"We have to invest in this area," he said.

Companies can leverage the considerable research expenditures coming from government funding agencies, such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense, he said. Both agencies are keen to support efforts that will translate the potential shown in lab-based animal studies into the human arena.

"That's a big challenge, and there is a huge amount of money available to anyone who has a program to speed up that translation," Souquet said.

Philips is partnering with a number of academic research teams, as well as with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, to achieve this goal. The majority of projects require multidisciplinary teamwork, leading to a blurring of the traditional distinction between diagnosis and therapy. Next-generation contrast media could serve dual purposes as image-guided therapy aid and drug delivery method. One project Philips is working on involves an imaging agent that targets tumor angiogenesis but also possesses antiangiogenic properties. A separate investigation is considering the use of a smart nuclear imaging agent to detect and treat apoptotic cells in the heart.

"The whole concept of in situ drug delivery being monitored by an imaging system is something that is coming closer and closer to reality," Souquet said.

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