Siemens and Bruker join forces to develop very high field MRI

October 27, 1999

Vendors plan mid-2000 debut of 3-tesla, whole-body systemActivity continues in the very high field MRI sector. German firms Siemens Medical Systems and Bruker Medical have formed a strategic alliance with the goal of developing a 3-tesla whole

Vendors plan mid-2000 debut of 3-tesla, whole-body system

Activity continues in the very high field MRI sector. German firms Siemens Medical Systems and Bruker Medical have formed a strategic alliance with the goal of developing a 3-tesla whole body MRI scanner within six to eight months. The system will feature functional imaging and volume-selective MR spectroscopy for various body organs.

The deal comes just weeks after Picker acquired British high-field MRI developer Surrey Medical Imaging Systems (SCAN 9/15/99) with the intent of developing a very high field scanner by the end of 2000. During the last year, GE Medical Systems and Varian Medical Systems have also been stepping up programs to build and deliver their own 3-tesla products.

For its part, Siemens already offers a 3-tesla system, a dedicated head scanner called Allegra. The Erlangen-based company decided to team with Bruker, however, because the Allegra is not as capable of addressing emerging clinical opportunities as a new, jointly developed, product would be.

“We’ve been seeing more groups interested in going beyond very high field brain research,” said John D. Pavlidis, division manager of Siemens magnetic resonance division. “This will give us the whole-body offering that we don’t have now.”

Siemens chose to develop an entirely new system for whole-body scanning because evolving the Allegra to handle this role would require extensive reengineering of the existing scanner. The magnet and bore diameter of the Allegra are optimized for brain exams, Pavlidis said.

“You could argue that by making the magnet bigger, you would end up with a whole-body system, but the Allegra offers us an attractive price point as it is now, and you can also get a higher gradient performance, if you just focus on the head,” he said.

The new scanner, which has not yet been named, will bear the labels of both Bruker and Siemens. Sales and service of the system will be handled by the Siemens organization.

Pavlidis says the alliance struck by Siemens and Bruker is a response to the market rather than to actions by competitors. In fact, talks between the two companies regarding cooperative development of a very high field system have been going on for several months, he said.

Working with a partner such as Bruker offers advantages in designing an all-new whole-body system, according to Pavlidis. Ettlingen, Germany-based Bruker has extensive expertise in special components, including the RF electronics needed for very high field MRI systems. In addition, the company has almost 40 years experience in the design and manufacture of advanced NMR technology, and in recent years has focused on the development of very high field and ultra high-field MRI systems, some with field strengths in excess of 11 tesla.

Bruker currently offers a whole-body 3-tesla system, the Medspec 30/100, which features a 93-cm bore, as well as two very high field dedicated head scanners, each with an 80-cm bore: the 3-tesla Medspec 30/80 and the 4-tesla Medspec 40/80. All three systems offer imaging and spectroscopy. Smaller bore systems are custom-made for animal researchers. The MRI scanners incorporate digital electronics, called Avance, that are designed to allow easy implementation of clinical developments in MR imaging and in vivo spectroscopy.

Clinical capabilities to be built into the Siemens-Bruker unit will center on functional imaging and spectroscopy. The customers most interested in buying the new 3-tesla system will likely be research institutions, Pavlidis said, but the new scanner could attract more buyers than just those in ivory towers. Ultra- and very high field scanners have been confined to research environments largely because they require extraordinary skill to operate, he said.

“Many customers are not MRI-savvy, so we want to make the 3-tesla system accessible to them for their clinical research,” Pavlidis said. “Our intent, clearly, is to give these 3-tesla systems a wider appeal.”

Operator skill will not be a barrier for the Siemens-Bruker machine, he said. A user interface will be fashioned to match the one found on Siemens Magnetom MRI scanners. As a result, the new system will appeal to the installed base of Siemens customers, while attracting others through an established reputation of user friendliness. The goal is to develop a 3-tesla scanner with the convenience and throughput of a clinical Siemens system, yet that provides the flexibility and functionality of advanced MRI and MR spectroscopy applications.