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Siemens contributes Volume Zoom to battle over multislice CT technology


Picker will have rights to sell souped-up scanner thanks to ElscintMultislice scanners are falling on the CT market like October leaves. Siemens Medical Systems of Iselin, NJ, became the latest vendor to introduce a multislice CT scanner with the

Picker will have rights to sell souped-up scanner thanks to Elscint

Multislice scanners are falling on the CT market like October leaves. Siemens Medical Systems of Iselin, NJ, became the latest vendor to introduce a multislice CT scanner with the launch of Volume Zoom, an upgrade to its premium Somatom Plus 4 system that enables the scanner to acquire up to four slices of data simultaneously. The new scanner promises to be a major boost, not only to Siemens, but also to Picker International, which will have rights to sell the system after inheriting Elscint's share of a technology development deal with Siemens.

Siemens rolled out Volume Zoom at a press conference held Oct. 1 in Newport Beach, CA. The introduction was eagerly anticipated by the medical imaging industry, especially after multislice CT introductions from competitors GE Medical Systems of Milwaukee and Toshiba America Medical Systems of Tustin, CA (SCAN 9/16/98).

Volume Zoom shares some similarities with the GE and Toshiba offerings, although it also differs in important ways. Like GE's LightSpeed QX/i and Toshiba's Aquilion, Volume Zoom's scanner rotation speed has been shortened. It completes a 360 revolution in 500 msec. The company has also developed multichannel detectors to enable the system to collect up to four simultaneous slices. Combining half-second imaging with multiple slices enables Volume Zoom users to acquire as many as eight images per second.

The scanner's detector architecture represents a departure from the configurations used by GE and Toshiba, however. Volume Zoom's new Adaptive Array Detectors are segmented into eight elements of different widths, from 1 mm at the center to 5 mm at the edges. The architecture allows users to change the number and width of simultaneous slices being collected, from four 5-mm slices to two 0.5-mm slices, according to Richard Hausmann, vice president of CT marketing and sales. Volume Zoom also employs the company's Lightning UFC (ultrafast ceramic) detector material, which was made available last year.

Other technologies developed for Volume Zoom include a design in which the gantry itself is a linear motor, making the system more stable when rotating at high speeds. Siemens also developed a technology in which data are sent from the detectors to the workstation via radar rather than over the system's slip ring. This helps transfer the large amounts of data collected with the system, Hausmann said.

Volume Zoom represents the culmination of the CT component supply relationship signed between Siemens and Elscint in 1996, a collaboration that was targeted at the development of a multislice scanner (SCAN 9/11/96). Under the agreement, Siemens supplied its gantry, UFC detector material, and other components, while Elscint provided the electronics, software algorithms, and other expertise needed for multislice technology, according to Klaus Hambuchen, president of Siemens' CT division. The collaboration probably cut 30% to 45% off the time required to get the system to market, he said.

Both companies have rights to market the multislice scanner under their own product names, and it is this provision that has interesting ramifications for the CT market. Elscint's CT division will be sold to Picker of Cleveland in a deal expected to close next month (SCAN 9/30/98). Shortly after the deal was made public, Siemens and Picker announced that they had agreed to extend the technology collaboration relationship to Picker. The upshot is that Picker will have the right to sell Volume Zoom under its own label, Hambuchen said.

Picker will most likely prove to be a stronger competitor than Elscint and could score some sales that might otherwise go to Siemens. But Siemens wins either way, because it manufactures most of the components, such as UFC detectors, that will go into Picker's version of Volume Zoom. Siemens plans to emphasize its OEM component business in the future, according to Hambuchen.

"UFC detector development will be a major part of our OEM strategy, selling CT components to competitors and working with competitors on basic elements of the business," he said. "We will differentiate from our competitors in the final use and in the applications, but there are basics that certainly can be shared."

Siemens may gain some advantage over its multislice competitors because it can offer Volume Zoom as both an upgrade and a new system. The company has an installed base of 1300 Somatom Plus 4 scanners, all of which are candidates for Volume Zoom upgrades. The price of an upgrade will vary but will probably cost around $400,000. A new Somatom Plus 4 Volume Zoom will carry a list price of around $1.25 million, similar to the list prices of the GE and Toshiba scanners. Volume Zoom received 510(k) clearance on Sept. 30, and deliveries are expected to begin in the first quarter of 1999.

Although Volume Zoom will enable faster exam times, Siemens executives believe that the success of multislice CT depends on whether the technology enables the development of new applications. Such applications include trauma, stroke and pain management, and cardiac imaging. Cardiac imaging is particularly promising, and the company believes that Volume Zoom will improve the performance of its SubSecond Cardio CT package, introduced earlier this year (SCAN 4/29/98). Volume Zoom is capable of running in a 250-msec partial scan mode for cardiac studies.

On hand at the Volume Zoom rollout was Dr. Willi Kalender, a long-time Siemens collaborator who was instrumental in the development of the first spiral CT scanner. The first Volume Zoom was installed at Kalender's University of Erlangen in August, and he is bullish on the technology, especially with respect to cardiac scanning. Kalender displayed cardiac CT scans in which a 250-msec scan showed coronary artery calcifications much more clearly than a 500-msec scan. This heightened resolution should make coronary CT scanning more reproducible, and thus more valuable in tracking patients with coronary artery disease.

"It is very important to do coronary scoring in a more accurate and more reproducible way," Kalender said. "You need not only high accuracy, but high precision and reproducibility, and that is what we are aiming for."

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