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Toshiba prepares to take on CT foes after winning 510(k) for multislice upgrade


Company is tackling problem of multislice data managementIt’s said that slow and steady wins the race, and that principle is what Toshiba America Medical Systems has been counting on in its effort to bring a multislice CT system successfully

Company is tackling problem of multislice data management

It’s said that slow and steady wins the race, and that principle is what Toshiba America Medical Systems has been counting on in its effort to bring a multislice CT system successfully to market. The Tustin, CA, vendor moved a big step closer to its goal last month when it received 510(k) clearance for a multislice upgrade for its Aquilion CT scanner.

Winning Food and Drug Administration clearance puts Toshiba on an even regulatory footing with the other companies that have introduced multislice CT scanners, a group that includes GE, Siemens, and Picker. But while those companies may be farther along in their commercialization plans, Toshiba hopes to pull ahead in the long run thanks to the novelty of its technology, which it believes is more advanced than other multislice systems.

The company chose to introduce Aquilion in September as a single-slice scanner first, with a multislice option to be added later (SCAN 9/16/98). Multislice CT systems offer users the benefit of collecting more data in each rotation of the patient, therefore performing full studies more quickly. They also allow physicians to collect thinner slices in the same amount of time, producing a more detailed image than a traditional CT scan.

Toshiba’s multislice version of Aquilion uses a four-slice detector with a half-second rotation time, which enables the unit to collect eight slices of data per second. Aquilion produces slices as thin as 0.5 mm, and has a detector array that consists of 32 tracks, as well as a 60-kw generator and a 7.5-million-heat-unit x-ray tube. The company also plans to offer continuous imaging and a CT fluoroscopy option on its multislice units.

Toshiba’s slower development process for Aquilion’s multislice upgrade was part of the company’s strategy, according to Charles Corogenes, director of the company’s CT business unit.

“Rather than customers doing what they currently do in one-fourth the time with a multislice system, we figured they’d run it four times harder. So Toshiba’s philosophy was to totally redesign the platform for half-second CT and multislice (in order to accommodate heavier use),” Corogenes said. “That’s been our mantra throughout this entire process.”

Toshiba may not be as far behind its competition as it seems. Last September, Milwaukee-based GE introduced its LightSpeed unit. Siemens followed a month later with its Volume Zoom upgrade, and Picker presented its Mx8000—acquired by its purchase of Elscint’s CT business—at the RSNA meeting in November (SCAN 12/16/98). Of the three, GE is the only company that has already begun production shipping, placing approximately 70 units so far, according to a GE spokesperson. Both Siemens and Picker have shipped systems to luminary sites, and expect to begin production shipping in the next six months. Toshiba will begin shipping the multislice version of Aquilion sometime in the fourth quarter.

Toshiba is confident that Aquilion will establish a strong position in the multislice CT race, improving the quality of pediatric and trauma scans, as well as CT angiography and cardiac scoring. But the company is also considering how to deal with a potential problem that multislice CT could create: managing the large amounts of image data the units produce. The company would like to offer users an adequate image data management computer, since multislice CT produces hundreds more images than traditional units.

“I’ve seen some angio studies that had as many as 900 images,” Corogenes said. “We want to understand how that much image data is going to be managed. We know that in places where they already have multislice, they’re overwhelming their PACS networks. So we think that along with offering multislice, we need to have some solution for image data handling. I don’t think enough people have given that much thought, and we are definitely going to take a look (at the issue).”

To upgrade a single-slice Aquilion in the field to multislice, Toshiba will install a new detector array, a new data acquisition system, and a faster version of the unit’s SGI computer. The firm has yet to determine how it will upgrade existing Aquilion units—whether by swapping for new systems or upgrading them in the field—but plans to offer the upgrade at a competitive price. Toshiba expects that the average selling price for a new Aquilion multislice CT will be about $1 million.

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