Lizardtech uses MrSID to push image compression apps

January 31, 2001

The technology for wireless networking of images and patient data on handheld computers is ready. Or so says software firm LizardTech, which has developed software that allows users to view a low-resolution version of an image first and then zoom in on

The technology for wireless networking of images and patient data on handheld computers is ready. Or so says software firm LizardTech, which has developed software that allows users to view a low-resolution version of an image first and then zoom in on regions of interest, displaying them at higher resolution on a handheld computer.

Using MrSID (multiresolution seamless image database), images of any size can be sent from platform to platform over a wireless network without compromising resolution or contrast, according to Fred Beuthal, who oversees LizardTech's medical and wireless business development.

"The real value of this technology is in low-bandwidth wireless and DSL/ISDN applications," Beuthal said.

Like the dynamic transfer syntax (DTS) technology developed at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1990s (and subsequently commercialized by Stentor), MrSID is a Web-based product designed to improve the speed and ease with which images can be stored, retrieved, and viewed over the Internet, eliminating the need for more costly wide-bandwidth networks.

Although LizardTech has had some difficulties breaking into the healthcare market, Beuthal believes the latest version of MrSID is ready for medical prime time. The firm is talking with a number of medical OEMs, including some of the biggest names in the medical imaging business, according to Beuthal, who declined to disclose any of the candidates.

But to be sold in the U.S., MrSID needs the FDA's OK. And the company is still in the process of obtaining clearance on those components that require it.

Even so, MrSID has already whetted the appetite of the medical community. At the 2000 SCAR meeting last June, Dr. Ronald Arenson, chair of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco (LizardTech's only beta site), showed an auditorium packed with radiologists that a small handheld computer could adequately display a chest image, while providing instant access to related patient information contained within a hospital database. That demonstration was enabled by LizardTech, working with UCSF to refine medical image applications of the company's wavelet-based software.

Founded in 1992, LizardTech originally put most of its energy into nonmedical applications. As the exclusive licensee of patented technology developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, LizardTech

initially targeted the geospatial, publishing, and criminology markets. While recognizing MrSID's potential for medical imaging, the company found that the first and even second generations of the product had critical limitations.

Version 3, the most recent iteration, offers several enhancements. By incorporating MG3 lossless technology, for example, MrSID allows the user to make each original image a lossless file and then decide on a case-by-case basis what parameters are needed each time the image is accessed.

"With MrSID generation 3, you first create the file as a lossless file, and from there you can extract additional file-size reductions based on a variety of parameters, such as quality, and still keep the lossless format on file," said Tom Foley, director of marketing for LizardTech.

The software offers a few bonus features, as well. When using MrSID to access an image, the type of image is automatically determined on the basis of the protocol of the accessing device. As a result, different forms of the image do not have to be created and stored on the server. Instead they can be created on the fly and sent out as needed in the appropriate form for each device. Thus a single image file can serve different users, simultaneously accessing the data with different devices. Version 3 also includes some techniques for working with an image after it is compressed to compress it even further.

LizardTech is looking beyond just image files, having acquired IBM's DjVu technology in mid-2000. DjVu is optimized for text files rather than image files, which enables LizardTech to offer compression capabilities for all data making up an electronic patient record or any other large data files a healthcare organization needs to transfer or store, according to Beuthal.

The company has staked out a position in the industry and is ready to protect that position with litigation, if necessary. Potential patent infringement cases have been identified, and LizardTech is already pursuing some legal recourse with an overseas company, according to Beuthal.

"We are not resting on our patents, but we are pursuing some intellectual property disputes, initially with an overseas company," he said. "We are the exclusive licensee of the Los Alamos patent, which allows the selective compression/decompression of images and multigigabyte image files."

In the meantime, LizardTech is keeping a close eye on advances in wireless technologies. The company sees handheld and wireless capabilities as key to achieving commercial success in healthcare.

"As the hardware gets better and fasterÑand quality improves and production capabilities support imaging on handheld devicesÑbeing able to transmit something on a handheld to someone remote, and being able to broadcast over the Internet, could become very important," Foley said. "Moving things around a LAN is difficult, and we are broadening that. As everything gets more universal in the medical community, we are making these data accessible to anyone who has clearance."