Siemens and Philips prepare release of commercially viable 1T open MRs

June 2, 2004

The torch for open MR may soon be passed to a new generation of technology. Siemens and Philips are preparing to launch commercial versions of their 1T open MR scanners. Philips appears to be targeting the unveiling of its scanner for the latter part of

The torch for open MR may soon be passed to a new generation of technology. Siemens and Philips are preparing to launch commercial versions of their 1T open MR scanners. Philips appears to be targeting the unveiling of its scanner for the latter part of this year. Siemens' announcement could be just days away.

Executives from the two companies confirmed their plans in discussions with DI SCAN at the meeting of the International Society for MR in Medicine in Japan, May 15 to 21. Jacques Coumans, Philips vice president of MR global marketing, expects to have 1T open systems featuring a commercially viable design operating at two U.S. clinical sites before the RSNA meeting later this year. The new product will be built around a vertical field magnet.

"We are very confident that this system has not only an appealing design but gives an image quality that is equal to or surpasses 1.5T," he said.

Siemens provided fewer details about its new system, deferring to an upcoming announcement by midsummer. The company plans commercial release of the system around the end of the year.

Siemens first showed a mock-up of a work-in-progress 1T open in 1999, just weeks after GE Healthcare unveiled its 0.7T OpenSpeed. Philips followed a year later with a 1T mock-up of its own. Neither Philips nor Siemens has delivered a commercial 1T open product. Working prototypes-some in engineering labs, others in clinical sites-have proven the feasibility of the technology. Production-line models, however, were too expensive to manufacture and both companies returned to the drawing board.

Engineers have now overcome the production challenges, according to Philips and Siemens, but the market has changed and may itself prove challenging. The introduction of 3T systems and market stagnation in the U.S. has caused the price of 1.5T systems to slide below $1.5 million. Consequently, the new generation of open MR scanners could easily be priced higher than their 1.5T cylindrical brethren. Coumans does not believe this will be a problem, however.

"It comes down to what the particular market wants," he said. "We believe the entrepreneurial market will be willing to shell out that amount of money because of the image quality and the branding that it will add."

Siemens and Philips executives hope their upcoming introductions will reinvigorate demand for open MR scanners, which has slipped markedly since its heyday some seven years ago. Today fewer than a third of new units sold in the U.S. are open, according to industry estimates.

Hitachi spearheaded the growth in popularity for this segment of the market a decade ago. Its 0.3T Airis product line has been a standard bearer for low-field technology, while the 0.7T Altaire, introduced at the 2000 RSNA meeting, has taken the high ground.

For a fleeting moment at the ISMRM meeting, it seemed the company would be coming out with a new open system. The ISMRM exhibitor guide described the Hitachi Aperto as having the world's first 0.4T permanent magnet. But Sheldon Shaffer, vice president and general manager for MRI at Hitachi Medical Systems America, explained that Aperto, which was released into the Japanese market last year, is designed exclusively for that marketplace.

"The 0.4T magnet has a much smaller gap than would be needed in the U.S., so we would have to reengineer the whole magnet system," he said. "Because it would become much larger, much heavier, and much more expensive, it wouldn't be practical for the U.S. market."

Philips' and Siemens' 1T versions, therefore, could be the first new globally available open platforms since Picker rolled out the Infinion HFO (which became the Philips Panorama 0.6T) in March 2002.