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Ultrasound technology race heats up as Acuson readies debut of ART/TCR


New upgrade improves ultrasound tissue differentiationUltrasound vendor Acuson is planning to release a major new upgradeto its Acoustic Response Technology platform at the RadiologicalSociety of North America meeting later this month. The

New upgrade improves ultrasound tissue differentiation

Ultrasound vendor Acuson is planning to release a major new upgradeto its Acoustic Response Technology platform at the RadiologicalSociety of North America meeting later this month. The upgrade,called Tissue Contrast Resolution (ART/TCR), will improve theability of the vendor's 128 XP/10 scanners to differentiate varioustypes of soft tissue, according to the Mountain View, CA, company.

The release of ART/TCR comes at a crucial time for Acuson. Thevendor released financial results late last month that show revenuesdown 13%, in sharp contrast to those of arch-rival ATL, whichposted an 8% increase in sales. Some industry observers believethat ATL's HDI 3000 platform, released last year, may be takinga bite out of Acuson's sales, although Acuson officials say theyhave not suffered market share losses (see story, page 7).

Regardless of whether it is losing or maintaining market share,Acuson needs to keep the XP/10 platform current to compete withHDI 3000. ART/TCR will do just that by improving the ability ofclinicians using XP/10 scanners to see subtle differences in tissuedensities and textures, according to Kerr Spencer, general imagingmarketing manager.

ART's release in 1993 improved the spatial and contrast resolutionof XP/10 scanners (SCAN 5/19/93). These improvements did not necessarilytranslate into better tissue differentiation because tissues respondto ultrasound in unpredictable ways, Spencer said. ART/TCR fine-tunesAcuson's technology to bring out differences in tissue densities.

"It has been recognized that Acuson has outstanding contrastresolution, the ability to define different amplitude levels,different levels of gray," Spencer said.

"That doesn't ensure that we are going to see good differencesbetween different types of tissue, or tissues that have differentdensities. What we've done with ART/TCR is increase that differentiation.Tissues that are dissimilar in their texture or density now lookmuch more dissimilar on the ultrasound image."

ART/TCR affects the performance of six transducers, two of whichare new probes Acuson will introduce at the RSNA meeting. Thenew probes are C7, a curved-array 7-MHz transducer for ob/gyn,small adult, pediatric and musculoskeletal applications; and L7T,a razor-shaped 7-MHz probe for intraoperative applications. Theupgrade also enhances the performance of four other existing transducers:V4, C3, V5M and V4C, an existing cardiac transducer that has beenoptimized for either cardiology or general imaging.

"All these probes, because they are new technology in termsof the lens material, the ceramics and the backing materials,have inherently broader bandwidth and allow us to take tissuedifferentiation to an even higher level than is currently available,"Spencer said.

ART/TCR will primarily benefit 2-D gray-scale imaging. It alsosupports Acuson's Color Doppler Energy (CDE) power Doppler technology,however, and Acuson expects improvements in sensitivity and spatialresolution on CDE exams using the two new transducers.

Acuson expects ART/TCR to have particular benefit in fetal imaging,such as differentiating between a fetal lung, liver and bowel.General abdominal imaging will also be easier with the upgrade,Spencer said. Other applications include intraoperative,pediatricsand transesophageal imaging.

In general, Acuson believes ART/TCR will enable clinicians toevaluate disease states more quickly and will give users moreconfidence in the diagnostic utility of ultrasound images, improvingthe modality's position versus other technologies like CT or MRI.

ART/TCR will ship as an option on new XP/10 systems and willbe offered as an upgrade to XP/10 ART scanners in the field. Acusonwill begin shipping the upgrade shortly after the RSNA conference.The vendor has not yet set a price range for the technology.

When ART debuted two years ago, the wave of XP/10 customers upgradingto the new technology provided a strong boost to Acuson's revenuesas over 1200 customers upgraded in the first year of its release(SCAN 9/14/94). Acuson believes ART/TCR could provide an evenstronger lift, according to Rick Smith, vice president of generalimaging business operations.

"We think this is bigger than ART because of the value itbrings to people's needs concerning tissue differentiation,"Smith said.

"They are looking for every way they can to gain greaterconfidence in modalities that are less costly."

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