Rebound of gamma camera market aids Hitachi’s plans for resurgence

May 27, 1998

Sales of variable-angle system will begin this yearHitachi Medical Corp. of America is discovering that its plans to reenter the U.S. market for gamma cameras may be well timed after all. The Twinsburg, OH, vendor is set to begin U.S. sales of its

Sales of variable-angle system will begin this year

Hitachi Medical Corp. of America is discovering that its plans to reenter the U.S. market for gamma cameras may be well timed after all. The Twinsburg, OH, vendor is set to begin U.S. sales of its line of digital gamma cameras just as the market is in the midst of a surprisingly strong rebound.

Many industry observers questioned the wisdom of Hitachi’s strategy when the company announced in 1996 that it intended to take over direct sales of gamma cameras formerly marketed by Summit Nuclear (SCAN 6/5/96). At the time, the nuclear medicine market was at the tail end of a three-year slump and was crowded with competitors.

Since then, things have stabilized. A number of nuclear medicine companies have either merged, ceased operations, or formed technology development collaborations, and gamma camera purchasing has returned to robust levels. In fact, Hitachi believes that the market has several more years of purchasing strength left as hospitals buy new cameras to replace systems that are as much as 12 years old, according to Gary Enos, general manager of Hitachi’s nuclear medicine products division.

Hitachi’s product line will be on display at next month’s Society of Nuclear Medicine meeting in Toronto, with the company featuring three gamma cameras. The single-head SpectraDigital 150 DS and the fixed 180° dual-head SpectraDigital 260 DS were both sold by Summit prior to its merger with Sopha Medical. Contrary to some market rumors, Hitachi is fully committed to selling new versions of the cameras, which have received new 510(k) clearances and have been upgraded with new software, Enos said.

Much of Hitachi’s sales effort, however, will focus on SpectraDigital V250 DSP, a new digital variable-angle dual-head camera. Although Hitachi has taken its time in bringing this system to market, the camera is now ready, and Hitachi has placed the first clinical unit in a hospital in Mississippi. Regular commercial shipments should begin between now and the Radiological Society of North America meeting later this year, Enos said. About 12 V250 DSP systems have been installed in Japan.

Hitachi’s measured roll-out of V250 DSP is emblematic of the company’s careful approach to product development, Enos said. Hitachi is still working on some technologies, such as non-uniform attenuation correction and coincidence detection, that other firms are already shipping. Hitachi believes, however, that taking its time to market will help it avoid some of the problems that other companies have encountered in commercializing technologies too quickly.

With respect to non-uniform attenuation correction, for example, Hitachi believes that the use of moving line sources, commonly adopted by a number of vendors, is aflawed approach that not only results in lower image resolution but also creates artifacts in images. In collaboration with researchers at Duke University in Durham, NC, Hitachi is developing a version of non-uniform attenuation correction, which it calls NUA, that employs a stationary line source and focused fan-beam collimators in offset mode. Hitachi claims that this approach collects more data than competing systems and plans to show images from the technique in its SNM booth.

Like other gamma camera vendors, Hitachi is also exploring coincidence detection techniques, but the company believes that it may have an edge, due to its experience in PET design and manufacturing. Hitachi is less well known in PET in the U.S. than companies like GE and Siemens because it sells PET cameras only in Asia. Hitachi, however, is on its seventh generation of PET camera design, and Hitachi engineers are working with researchers at Duke and at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix to help apply its PET experience to solving the various problems involved with conducting coincidence detection on gamma cameras.

In particular, Hitachi is working on methods to reduce scatter between detectors, such as by treating the surface of scintillation crystals to reduce reflection and scatter. There is also a need for faster electronics than those currently on the market to handle the large amounts of data generated by high-energy imaging studies, Enos said.

With respect to PET, Hitachi is collaborating with Japanese optics firm Hamamatsu on a new PET camera, one of which will be installed at a hospital in Hawaii, Enos said. Whether Hitachi will sell the camera in the U.S. is questionable, especially given the sluggish nature of the U.S. PET market.

Hitachi has largely completed the establishment of the U.S.-based sales, service, and applications support structure it needs to begin direct U.S. sales of gamma cameras.

“It’s been a long time coming, but to establish Hitachi as a direct supplier of sales and service, we had to establish the division,” Enos said. “We are pleased with where we are at this point, and the market will see more of us in the near future.”