TomTec expands 3-D ultrasound ties

May 19, 1993

Tomographic Technologies (TomTec) of Munich is building a stableof OEM and development partnerships to expand the market reachof its Echo CT cine three-dimensional ultrasound image processingsystem. As part of this effort, the firm is developing

Tomographic Technologies (TomTec) of Munich is building a stableof OEM and development partnerships to expand the market reachof its Echo CT cine three-dimensional ultrasound image processingsystem. As part of this effort, the firm is developing still-frame3-D applications of its technology outside of echocardiography.

TomTec signed on cardiology ultrasound supplier Interspec asa nonexclusive OEM customer last year (SCAN 12/2/92) and has hadtalks with several other ultrasound vendors. Technology-sharingagreements have been reached, although TomTec is not at libertyto name the partners, said vice president of marketing HartmutA. Konig.

The company has installed one cardiology system in Germanyand one in Austria. Two ultrasound processing systems targetedat carotid imaging were also placed in Austria. In the U.S., thevendor has a supply agreement with Interspec for 10 systems, Konigsaid.

An initial contract for three Echo CT systems has been signedwith Kretztechnik of Austria. TomTec hopes this sale may leadto a more established OEM relationship with the Austrian vendor,he said.

Kretztechnik was one of the first developers of 3-D ultrasoundtechnology, although its U.S. distributor, Cone Instruments, hashad an extended wait for Food and Drug Administration market clearance(SCAN 5/9/90).

TomTec's system is also under 510(k) application with the FDA.The company's FDA strategy is to separate the application forits unique sliding transesophageal (TEE) probe from that of itsworkstation and postacquisition image processing technology. TheFDA appears to view the processing technology as similar to current3-D products in MRI and CT, Konig said.

With the processing part of its product on the U.S. market,TomTec could move ahead with plans to provide vendors outsideof cardiology with frames and steering technology to guide existingprobes in 3-D volume acquisition. Image data from these probeswould then be processed with TomTec's workstation and software.

The lobster-tail TEE probe, central to TomTec's cine 3-D cardiacwork, may take longer to pass muster at the FDA, however.

Although the transducer itself is monoplane, it is moved upthe TEE probe mechanically to acquire full cycles of the entirebeating heart. The probe itself is flexible for insertion intothe esophagus and then stiffens to allow for movement of the transducer.The FDA has to satisfy itself as to questions of mechanical movementsafety, probe nontoxicity and routine sterilization, Konig said.

More than 1000 cardiology studies have been performed withthe cine 3-D TEE probe, he said.

"It (the cardiac clinical work) has brought us to thepoint where we can now try to diversify into other applications,"Konig said.

Initial results have been obtained with 3-D image processingof fetal and gallstone images, he said. Processing 3-D data followingan ultrasound examination can help the physician find the optimumplane when viewing a tumor and other structures and provide moreprecise measurements.

Cardiac applications of the technology have shown significantimprovement over two-dimensional echo in the precision of cardiacvolume calculations and other measurements. The technology hasalso proved helpful in planning for open-heart surgery, he said.

"We can show the surgeon the intracardiac structure andvalves in motion before the heart is opened," Konig said.

One drawback to cine 3-D display is that the vendor has notyet developed a way to transfer color-flow to the processed imageso that it is easily interpreted. Color depends on the directionof measurement. When the 3-D image is rotated or slices are createdin different orientations, the original color no longer matchesthe direction of view.

"We can visualize the color in the native image but wedon't use it for postprocessing. We don't store it, and we don'tuse it if we do secondary slices or 3-D calculations," Konigsaid.

Interspec and TomTec are currently building an interface betweenthe ultrasound scanner and image processing system, Konig said.Interspec plans to use the technology both with its own multiplaneTEE probe and the TomTec lobster-tail TEE probe.

TomTec hopes that entering into multiple OEM relationshipswhile maintaining its own technology rights will help bring thecost of the 3-D technology down and increase the company's marketreach. Both brand names are displayed on the equipment to be soldthrough Interspec, he said.

"Our policy is to do everything nonexclusively and toinsist on having our label on the machine. We don't want to disappear.We want to stay in the market and not as a pure development company.We want to have our own product," Konig said.

TomTec established a U.S. company last year in El Toro, CA,headed by former Toshiba ultrasound executive Ivan Young (SCAN4/22/92).

BRIEFLY NOTED:

  • Intravascular ultrasound supplier Cardiovascular ImagingSystems (CVIS) has broken off the joint development agreementit entered last year with interventional firm SciMed Life Systems(SCAN 6/17/92). The two firms could not agree on the specificsof a planned ultrasound imaging guidewire product for coronaryand peripheral intravascular applications. Binding arbitrationmay be required to finalize the separation, CVIS said.

  • Increased sales of its Mammotest stereotactic-guided breastbiopsy table and the launch of its Mammovision digital mammographysystem, used in conjunction with Mammotest, helped Fischer Imagingof Denver increase revenues 19.4% for the first quarter (end-April4), from $15.4 million to $18.4 million. However, promotion ofMammovision and costs associated with an increase of its salesand service organizations helped trim net earnings from $482,000in the first quarter of 1992 to $193,000 in the same period thisyear.

  • Lorad continues to experience success in marketing mammographysystems to the U.S. military. The Danbury, CT, subsidiary of ThermoElectron last month announced that the U.S. Navy ordered over$1 million in breast imaging and breast biopsy equipment. Theorder consists of seven StereoGuide breast biopsy tables and sevenM-III mammography units with the DSM Digital Imaging System fordigital spot mammography.

Earlier this year Lorad won a similar U.S. Army order, alsovalued at more than $1 million (SCAN 3/10/93). Lou Memoli, Lorad'sdirector of marketing, said the StereoGuide has an installed baseof 105, with another 50 units on order.

  • Construction should start this summer on a new facilityfor Siemens Ultrasound in Issaquah, WA, according to the SeattleTimes. Siemens Ultrasound will consolidate from two sites intothe 130,000-square-foot building by the middle of next year. Asecond phase will produce 250,000 more square feet of office spacefor manufacturing and other purposes.

Siemens has expanded its Issaquah ultrasound staff to about450 workers since deciding last year to centralize ultrasoundoperations worldwide at the former headquarters of Quantum MedicalSystems, an independent ultrasound vendor purchased in 1990 (SCAN6/3/92).

About 20 employees in Issaquah have been transferred from Germany.Siemens could have as many as 1000 employees in the facility bythe end of the decade, according to the Times.