Tetrad and Siemens land federal funds to develop military ultrasound

June 19, 1996

Project follows ATL grant for handheld ultrasoundUltrasound-guided surgery firm Tetrad and the ultrasound groupof Siemens Medical Systems are the lead companies in a consortiumthat has received a $3.2 million grant to develop a highly

Project follows ATL grant for handheld ultrasound

Ultrasound-guided surgery firm Tetrad and the ultrasound groupof Siemens Medical Systems are the lead companies in a consortiumthat has received a $3.2 million grant to develop a highly portableyet technologically sophisticated ultrasound scanner for militaryfield hospitals. The grant from the U.S. government's TechnologyReinvestment Project is similar to one ATL received earlier thisyear to develop a novel handheld ultrasound scanner, also forbattlefield medicine.

Both grants are part of the U.S. military's desire to improvetreatment of wounded soldiers by relying on highly mobile technologythat employs telemedicine links to allow remote physician consultations.In ATL's case, the Bothell, WA, vendor is working with severalother companies to develop a miniature ultrasound device capableof being carried by Army personnel to triage wounded soldiersin the field (SCAN 3/13/96).

The Tetrad/Siemens grant covers the development of a scannerto guide the treatment of those soldiers once they are sent toa MASH unit. Such a system would offer high image quality in amobile package, and would also include specialized probes to allowlaparoscopic surgery under field hospital conditions.

Tetrad of Englewood, CO, is the prime contractor on the project,which was granted by the Department of Defense's Advanced ResearchProjects Agency. For the project, Tetrad plans to leverage experienceand technology it acquired in developing Tetrad E/U, an ultrasoundscanner specifically designed for guiding minimally invasive surgery(SCAN 8/16/95 and 6/15/94).

Sales of Tetrad E/U never materialized as expected, due tothe small size of the ultrasound-guided surgery market, and Tetradhas refined its focus to concentrate on supplying ultrasound-guidedsurgical components to OEMs. The TRP grant is a big boost to thecompany in developing new technologies, according to chairmanDennis Dietz.

"For us, it is a large contract," Dietz said. "Itis a large contract in our prime area of product development,which is ultrasound probes for surgical applications."

Tetrad will develop miniaturized laparoscopic ultrasound probesthat include built-in position coding for use with stereotacticguided surgery. Also involved in the consortium is Surgical Navigation,a Broomfield, CO, company that is working on the image fusionsoftware that will enable images from other imaging modalitiesto be overlaid on ultrasound images.

Other firms with smaller roles in the consortium will workon developing piezoelectric probe materials than can survive therigorous requirements of MASH units. These firms include MaterialsSystems of Littleton, MA, which specializes in injection moldingceramics, and TRS Ceramics of State College, PA, which has developednew single-crystal materials that may have excellent acousticproperties, according to Dietz.

Siemens is responsible for developing the ultrasound scannerto which the laparoscopic probes and other imaging devices willbe integrated. The project dovetails nicely with the vendor'sown intention to develop smaller, more portable versions of itshigh-end ultrasound technology, according to Wayne Moore, directorof new business development for Siemens Ultrasound.

The challenge involved is to take the image quality inherentin a scanner costing $50,000 to $60,000 and miniaturize it intoa much smaller package. Like ATL's consortium, Siemens will relyon application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to accomplishthis task. Existing portable ultrasound scanners lack the imagequality, laparoscopic probes, and the DICOM-compliant digitaloutputs necessary for the military's demands.

"The key issue is image quality," Moore said. "Theimage quality has to be very high for this to work. They needa relatively high-technology machine as well because it needsto digitally communicate with the rest of the medical systemsin the MASH unit."

Eventually, the companies in the consortium hope to marketthe result of their collaboration, as they are able to do underthe terms of the TRP grant, which provides half of the fundingrequired to develop the system, with the other half, $3.2 million,coming from the participating companies. The consortium hopesto have a prototype system completed by early 1998, with a commercialproduct completed two years after that.