Philips unveils 3-tesla scanner plans

June 7, 2000

Products may be optimized for cranial or cardiac imaging Philips Medical Systems hopes to have a 3-tesla MRI scanner in production by the end of next year. The first such system, now being built at the company's Netherlands factory, is

Products may be optimized for cranial or cardiac imaging

Philips Medical Systems hopes to have a 3-tesla MRI scanner in production by the end of next year. The first such system, now being built at the company's Netherlands factory, is scheduled for installation at the University of Zurich in Switzerland during the first quarter of 2001.

Researchers at the University of Zurich have been key collaborators with Philips in the development of its MRI systems. Their most recent contributions have been in cardiovascular MRI, including the development of Philips's crown jewel, SENSE (sensitivity encoding), which cuts acquisition time for dynamic studies by as much as two-thirds. Although the first system will be dedicated to head studies, design of the 3-tesla system could be optimized for cardiac imaging, specifically coronary artery imaging, according to Jacque Coumans, director of global marketing for Philips MRI.

"We are not sure that the use of contrast agents will give us enough contrast-to-noise (at 1.5 tesla)," Coumans said. "It might very well be that 3 tesla will give you just a little bit of an edge."

If development of a cardiovascular system occurs, SENSE would play a key role. By acquiring the MR signal simultaneously from overlapping areas covered by several surface coils, SENSE reduces the sampling necessary to achieve an image.

"SENSE technology, we think, is probably very critical," Coumans said. "It speeds up acquisition times while keeping a very high signal-to-noise ratio."

Among the challenges met by Philips engineers in the design of the new system, called Intera 3T, was maintaining the homogeneity of the field. Coil technology developed at the Philips R&D lab in Hamburg, Germany, solved the problem, Coumans said.

"Together with their expertise, we're quite sure that we can get a good production run of both head coils and body coils," he said.

Development of all the major components is completed, Coumans said. The 3-tesla magnet, like other magnets in the Intera line from long-time supplier IGC, reflects the philosophy of a compact design. The Dutch multimodality vendor introduced the first family of compact scanners a decade ago.

The company timeline calls for FDA marketing clearance by the middle of 2001 and production start-up in the third or fourth quarter of that year. Philips expects to have Intera 3T operating at several test sites by the end of 2001.

Other than Philips, only GE Medical Systems has a 3-tesla unit in production, although Siemens and Marconi are gearing up to produce such systems. In the past, vendors, including Philips, built custom systems in response to requests for very high field devices.

"We have come to realize that what people are really looking for is unity in user interface and unity in sequence portfolio," Coumans said. "So we decided to just make the 3-tesla Intera available with complete transparency of the user interface and sequences, as well as the coils."

In the past, Philips had worked with Bruker Medical to make systems featuring field strengths greater than 1.5 tesla. Bruker has since allied with Siemens to develop that company's production model 3-tesla scanner. Philips is undertaking the development work for the Intera 3T internally.

"A lot of efficiency can be gained by doing things in-house," Coumans said. "We can essentially reuse everything that we have done for the rest of the Intera family (0.5, 1, and 1.5 tesla), with the exception of the radio-frequency-specific components."

Coumans' decision to not only discuss Intera 3T but to provide details about its stage of development and scheduled introduction is new for Philips. Until recently, company policy dictated silence regarding works-in-progress until they were near product launch.

"Two or three years ago we would not have talked about it until we had the first system installed," he said. "Right now, I think, is a time that Philips steps up to the plate and tells the world that we're in this game too."