Vendors at ECR reveal new strategies in MR, IT, CAD, and CTA

May 11, 2005

Europe has traditionally lagged behind the U.S. in its interest in open MR technology. Now the launch into the European market of two MR systems, each claiming performance comparable to 1.5T but friendlier to patients, may at last reverse that trend.

Europe has traditionally lagged behind the U.S. in its interest in open MR technology. Now the launch into the European market of two MR systems, each claiming performance comparable to 1.5T but friendlier to patients, may at last reverse that trend.

The high-field newcomers are the 1.5T Magnetom Espree from Siemens Medical Solutions and the Panorama 1.0T from Philips Medical Systems. Both were showcased at ECR 2005.

Siemens installed its first four Europe-bound Espree systems during the first two months of 2005. Three went to customers in Germany, the other to a university hospital in Switzerland. Philips has collected orders for the Panorama 1.0T from clients in Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands following the system's debut at the 2004 RSNA meeting. Delivery of the Panorama 1.0T to European customers was scheduled to begin this month.

Both Siemens and Philips are playing up the ability of their latest MR offerings to maximize patient comfort without compromising image quality. This message is particularly important in Europe, which has traditionally had a tightly regulated healthcare market. In the U.S., some consumers' ability to choose where they have their scans done has helped drive demand for patient-friendly MR. Patient choice has had far less impact on scanner sales in Europe. So radiologists' preference for higher field systems capable of yielding more detailed images has, to date, held down sales of open MR scanners.

Agfa Healthcare used the ECR as a forum to announce plans to merge its corporate culture and technologies with newly acquired IT specialist GWI. In business meetings and at an offsite reception, Agfa executives described the consolidation, barely two months old, as a decisive step in its transformation into a global healthcare IT company.

The two companies' IT platform-GWI's Orbis and Agfa's Impax RIS/PACS-were presented at the ECR as entry points to different yet integral parts of the healthcare continuum. Ultimately, radiologists will benefit, according to Philippe Houssiau, president of the Agfa HealthCare Business Group.

"Radiology is becoming increasingly complex at the same time the pool of professionals is decreasing," he said. "Extending IT across the enterprise makes data transfer and data processing much easier, so that the productivity of the radiologist can improve dramatically."

Future development will combine the two platforms into one. The goal is to create a holistic enterprise-wide system that integrates all clinical and administrative data.

In the field of computer-assisted diagnosis, Cedara Software has submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market software that promises to help physicians differentiate benign from malignant lesions on breast sonograms. The Canadian software developer is touting B-CAD's potential to establish a new standard of care in women's health. The technology will improve the diagnostic contribution of ultrasound so much that fewer biopsies will be necessary, according to the company.

B-CAD was shown as a work-in-progress at the last RSNA meeting and at ECR 2005.

Despite its name, however, B-CAD is not a computer-aided diagnostic tool in the strictest sense. The software package is a sophisticated and advanced system developed for interpreting breast sonograms. But rather than rendering a stand-alone opinion or second reading, which is the approach of some CAD programs, B-CAD involves the physician at critical steps in its analysis. When outlining the lesion, for example, B-CAD defers to the physician to choose a "best fit" from several possibilities.

Finally, patient evaluations have begun in a multicenter study of CT angiography using Toshiba's 64-slice Aquilion scanner. Initial results will be released in 2006. Toshiba began assembling the international collaboration last November. The CorE 64 (Coronary Evaluation on 64-slice scanners) involves major medical centers in the U.S. (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) as well as in Europe (Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands and Humboldt University and Campus Charite Mitte in Germany), Latin America (INCOR Heart Institute of the School of Medicine Hospital, Sadivided byo Paulo University in Brazil), and Japan (Iwate Medical University). The patient evaluations will involve noninvasive imaging of cardiac patients using Toshiba's 64-row Quantum Detector in concert with its SURECardio and SUREPlaque applications. Luminaries will focus on visualizing soft plaque, measuring coronary stenosis, planning quantitative treatment, and calculating plaque burden.