Leading edge CTs capture trailing edge of radiology

May 1, 2007

Some imagers are still using single-slice CTs. GE and Siemens have migrated their best multislice components into compact 16-slice packages to convince these stragglers to switch. Toshiba has done so as well, but U.S. providers probably won't see this scanner.

Some imagers are still using single-slice CTs. GE and Siemens have migrated their best multislice components into compact 16-slice packages to convince these stragglers to switch. Toshiba has done so as well, but U.S. providers probably won't see this scanner.

The Toshiba Activion was designed specifically for Europe and Southeast Asia, according to Doug Ryan, senior director of the CT business unit at Toshiba America Medical Systems.

"The majority of our business in the U.S. is at the high end, 64 and 32 slices, and we need to keep our focus on that market and on developing advanced applications," he said.

Siemens and GE have taken a different tack, actively courting sales to U.S. providers who want to put the has-beens of CT out to grass. GE's BrightSpeed and Siemens' newly revamped Emotion platform squarely target hospitals and imaging centers in the U.S. still operating single- and dual-slice scanners.

Toshiba will address these opportunities with the current Aquilion 16, which has a high-powered generator better suited to the "growing need for obese imaging in the U.S.," Ryan said. The mainstay 16-slice Aquilion provides more coverage than the Activion can. And remaining standardized on a single platform simplifies scanning for departments with multiple Toshiba CTs configured for 16, 32, and 64 slices. But the clincher is a market strategy that caters to next year's summer launch of the company's 256-slice CT, now in beta clinical testing.

"The market we are going after now is the 400-plus bed hospitals," Ryan said. "We want to concentrate on those relationships over the next 12 months."

Siemens and GE, on the other hand, see much to be gained at the lower end of the hospital spectrum. GE started the movement toward better equipped 16-slice scanners with its commercial release at the 2006 RSNA meeting of the BrightSpeed Select portfolio. This product family, with members equipped to deliver four, eight, and 16 slices per rotation, is outfitted with components developed for GE's superpremium LightSpeed VCT. The small footprint fits in the constrained space often found in community hospitals and outpatient imaging centers.

Similarly, the new and improved Siemens Emotion, which will be commercially available in July, is a smaller, more efficient version of the CT platform the company introduced in 1999, which Siemens has sold more than 5000 times in two-, six-, or 16-slice configurations. Gone are the dual-slice configuration and the rectangular gantry, which has given way to the common oval design.

These new scanners from GE and Siemens can be sited in about the same space as outmoded single-, dual-, and quadslice scanners. And they do more than just fit better into the workspace; they make working faster and easier.

Improved computing capabilities built into the 16-slice Emotion allow the reconstruction of 16 images per second, for example, twice as many as the previous version. The six-slice Emotion can reconstruct eight images per second compared with six for its predecessor.

"We have looked into every step of the workflow, beginning with patient positioning through the scanning process and data processing as well as reading," said Dagmar Birk, product manager for the Emotion line at Siemens.

Toshiba's focus on the high end of CT, however, may play well even for prospective customers interested in 16-slice CTs. Shipping exclusively with Activion is a new subtraction algorithm that, with only minor interaction from the operator, subtracts noncontrast from contrast-enhanced data, producing an image that shows just vasculature. Ryan said this algorithm, called SureSubtraction, will be available in the U.S. later this year on the Aquilion platform, including the 16-slice configuration.