Vendors are treading lightly on the ground they have already plowed. Unveilings and works-in-progress shown at the RSNA meeting were the offspring of mature technologies rather than breakthroughs. The reason may be that no major innovations are
Vendors are treading lightly on the ground they have already plowed. Unveilings and works-in-progress shown at the RSNA meeting were the offspring of mature technologies rather than breakthroughs. The reason may be that no major innovations are needed.
Cardiologic and oncologic applications continue to tantalize, but the means for achieving them are being found in iterative improvements, mostly for high field. A few are being designed, however, for open scanners operating at 0.7T and below. Leading these innovations is parallel imaging, which continues to advance the capabilities of high-field cylindrical systems and potentially some open scanners.
Enhanced coils, gradients, and software to boost the performance of 1.5T systems are as much as the industry needs or customers want. Whole-body 3T scanners may indeed be the successor to 1.5T as the benchmark for high-performance imaging, but it will likely take them a while. Vendors are talking down expectations about how fast or in what directions these systems will evolve. The apparent inevitability of 3T systems' dominance at the high end of clinical applications was enough, however, to make at least one major vendor extend its MR family to the 7T level.
Gone from sight are the engineering wonders--the 1T opens--that vendors recently had predicted were right around the corner. Economic considerations have pushed these into the background as clinical prototypes have proved too expensive to mass produce.
An early developer of specialty MR scanners, Esaote continues to promote and develop its line of products dedicated to orthopedic applications. Nearly a decade ago, the company assigned U.S. distribution rights for its Artoscan extremity scanner to Lunar, a vendor known at the time primarily for bone densitometers. Lunar has since been acquired by GE Medical Systems, but the agreement to distribute extremity scanners lives on, with Esaote selling its MR products outside the U.S. The Artoscan has become C-Scan, which has been joined by E-Scan, an open-style dedicated extremity scanner.
A pioneer of clinical MR scanners, Fonar has stood the test of time, albeit with the help of attorneys specializing in patent law. The company's huge civil suit victory over GE and consequent out-of-court settlements with other MR vendors in the 1990s infused the company with the cash it needed to keep going long enough to become a substantial vendor of modern open MR scanners. Its Stand-Up MRI, which allows patients to be scanned standing or sitting, is driving interest among customers and rebuilding credibility for the company.
GE Medical Systems
GE was in MR when the modality was little more than technological wizardry. The company dominated the MR market in the mid-1980s and has continued to be the undisputed global market leader, particularly strong in the U.S. The company maintains a comprehensive portfolio, including cylindrical whole-body scanners available at 3T, 1.5T, and 1T as well as open systems at 0.35 (Ovation) and 0.7T (OpenSpeed).
Hitachi Medical Systems of America
The MR recession of the mid-1990s may be ancient history, but Hitachi's role in leading the industry out of it remains fresh. Hitachi's popularization of open scanners rekindled MR equipment sales seven years ago and established the company as the undisputed leader in the open marketplace. Hitachi has built on this legacy, updating its Airis II line of midfield open scanners, and in 2000 introducing Altaire, a 0.7T open product.
Dedicated extremity scanners have accounted for a modest number of sales each year but have failed to win mass acceptance. The reason, according to ONI, is that these systems have not been able to deliver image quality equivalent to that of high-field general-purpose MR scanners. ONI was founded on the idea that such image quality could be produced with relatively compact dedicated systems. The company's commercial release of such a scanner, OrthOne 1.0T, may test the validity of that idea.
Philips Medical Systems
The integration of products designed by Marconi Medical Systems has provided Philips with the widest selection of MR scanners in the industry. Philips' family of cylindrical Intera MR scanners, with their compact footprint, has been buoyed by Marconi's emphasis on open scanners, namely its Panorama 0.6T Infinion HFO (high field open) and Panorama 0.23T low-field system. Although the company last year described the Marconi-designed ultracompact Infinion 1.5T as an "open" product, the system has been redefined as being in "a class of its own." Philips is reengineering its open high-field Panorama 1.0T in an effort to gain cost efficiencies that will help make the product economically viable. The company is examining new developments through luminary sites experimenting with hybrid systems that combine the Intera 1.5T with a Philips x-ray-based interventional system.
Siemens Medical Solutions
As one of the premier vendors of MR technology, Siemens has sought to build on established scanner platforms at all levels of performance, while integrating its Magnetom products with those of other digital modalities using its syngo standard user interface. Workflow, in the context of patient outcomes and improved healthcare, is the company's watchword.
Toshiba America Medical Systems
A seemingly ill-fated decision in the late 1980s to buy the MR division of Diasonics actually led to the salvation of Toshiba America as a vendor of MR systems in the U.S. The corporate acquisition failed to achieve its primary purpose: to provide an installed base of MR scanners for service revenues and future sales of Japanese-made scanners. It did, however, provide the engineering know-how to establish Toshiba as a major vendor of a premium performance midfield superconducting open system called Opart. Now the 0.35T Opart platform may serve as a launching pad for further growth in midfield imaging, as the company prepares to assume a larger role in high-field imaging.