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Picker introduces multislice CT unit after completing Elscint acquisition


Mx8000 enables vendor to counter recent CT launchesPicker International didn't waste time in making the most of its acquisition of Elscint's CT business. Less than a week after finalizing the deal (see story, page 1), Picker introduced Mx8000, the

Mx8000 enables vendor to counter recent CT launches

Picker International didn't waste time in making the most of its acquisition of Elscint's CT business. Less than a week after finalizing the deal (see story, page 1), Picker introduced Mx8000, the Cleveland vendor's version of a new multislice CT scanner that Elscint had developed with technology gained through a development deal with Siemens Medical Engineering Group of Erlangen, Germany. Picker executives say the Elscint acquisition enabled their company to bring a multislice CT scanner to market 18 months sooner than if the company had continued its own development program.

Multislice scanners have taken the CT market by storm over the past four months, with GE, Toshiba, and Siemens all introducing variants of the technology (SCAN 9/16/98 and 10/14/98). Although each company has approached multislice scanning differently, all are using multichannel detectors and subsecond rotation times to acquire as many as eight slices per second. Market watchers believe that multislice scanners will enable CT users to develop new applications, such as cardiac imaging, that will spur equipment purchasing and enable CT to fend off inroads from other modalities.

The fall introductions of multislice technology had left Picker as one of the few major CT vendors without a public multislice offering. Although Picker had a multislice R&D program in place, the company was probably a year and a half from having a product ready for commercial delivery, according to Gary Kaufmann, director of marketing and sales for Picker's CT division.

Picker's acquisition of Elscint's CT division, first announced in September and finalized on Nov. 27, accelerated the company's timetable. Elscint's technology-sharing deal with Siemens was targeted at the development of multislice scanners, and Picker was able to share in the fruits of that joint endeavor once the Elscint purchase was finalized. Siemens contributed its detector material and other hardware components to the deal, while Elscint supplied the data acquisition system and multislice know-how it had perfected in the six years since it began selling the dual-slice CT-Twin scanner.

Each firm developed its own multislice scanner using the shared technology. Siemens in October introduced Somatom Plus 4 Volume Zoom and featured the system in its booth at this month's Radiological Society of North America meeting.

Elscint's offering was originally called Volumax, and the scanner received 510(k) clearance in October (SCAN 11/11/98). Now Picker will take over where Elscint left off, thanks to Picker's continuation of the CT partnership with Siemens. Picker has renamed Volumax as Mx8000, and the company featured the unit in its RSNA booth this month.

Like Volume Zoom, Mx8000's detector assembly rotates at speeds as fast as 500 msec, while the unit's detectors are segmented into eight elements of varying widths. This gives clinicians wide flexibility in the number and width of slices that are collected. Like Volume Zoom, Mx8000 uses Siemens' Lightning ultrafast ceramic (UFC) detectors.

There are fundamental differences between Mx8000 and Volume Zoom, however. The scanners have different gantry covers and thus look like completely different products. Siemens chose a gantry cover identical to its Somatom Plus 4 system, while Elscint developed a new gantry cover for its product, according to Shabtai Samoilov, an Elscint veteran who is now manager of multislice products for Picker Israel Ltd., the subsidiary Picker formed to manage its new operations in Israel. The scanners also feature different operator consoles, with Elscint relying on its OmniPro workstation, while Siemens retained its own interface.

Mx8000 is operating at two sites, one at the University of Ulm in Germany and the other at Indiana University in Indianapolis. At Indiana University, longtime CT-Twin user Dr. Ken Kopecky is working with the unit, which has exceeded the hospital's expectations. Mx8000 has proven particularly useful for virtual colonoscopy exams, he said. The thinner slices available with the unit enable radiologists to screen for colon cancer more effectively.

"We did a virtual colonoscopy case, and it's outstanding," Kopecky said. "It's going to turn the tide in favor of virtual colonoscopy."

Picker plans to begin delivering preproduction Mx8000 units shortly, according to Kaufmann. Production shipments should begin in June or July, and Picker will charge $1.25 million for a fully configured system. Picker plans to adapt its suite of advanced CT applications, such as Acqsim and PinPoint, to work on Mx8000.

While Picker moves Mx8000 to market, the company has begun integrating Elscint's other scanners into its product lineup. Elscint's entry-level SeleCT was displayed in Picker's booth, and the scanner will replace Picker's nonspiral IQ system as Picker's entry-level unit. Picker will continue selling all the Elscint scanners, Kaufmann said. Especially valuable to Picker is the dual-slice CT-Twin, which makes Picker the only CT vendor able to offer a dual-slice scanner as a mid-range product, occupying a price point between multislice and single-slice scanners.

With the development of its first multislice scanner completed, Picker is using its newfound R&D muscle to investigate the next generation of multislice technology, which would use cone-shaped x-ray beams and large-area detectors that measure 40 mm or even 80 mm in width, compared with the 20-mm detectors found on Mx8000.

"I've got engineers available to start working on the next steps: very large area detectors," Kaufmann said. "That is where our major technology efforts are headed."

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