Medical Device Daily European Editor

PARIS – Toshiba Medical Systems (Otawara, Japan) created a wide bore model for the Aquilon line of computed tomography (CT) scanners that dials down hardware for wider use in routine clinical examinations while stepping up software to reduce radiation dose and optimize image quality.

The 160-slice Aquilion Prime was announced ahead of its introduction at the European Congress of Radiology (ECR), set for March 3 in Vienna, and Toshiba confirmed a pre-launch installation of the new scanner at the Rode Kruis Ziekenhuis (Red Cross Hospital) in Beverwijk, the Netherlands.

Toshiba Europe (Zoetermeer, the Netherlands) also confirmed with Medical Device Daily it will introduce a second new CT scanner at ECR.

The Aquilon RX is a new 16-detector row scanner with 60% faster image reconstruction compared to Toshiba's Aquilon 16 and offers improved low contrast resolution, the company said in an e-mail.

With a 78 cm bore, the multislice helical Aquilion Prime system expands the new eVolution gantry by 6 cm and features a newly developed 80-row Quantum detector with a gantry rotation speed of 0.35 seconds, yielding 160-slice imaging in a complete rotation.

In a competitive environment where software is driving sales, Tosiba is offering an impressive package of existing and novel features onboard the Aquilon Prime.

Derived from the Aquilion ONE platform, the new scanner includes the coneXact reconstruction algorithm that delivers ultra high resolution of sub-millimeter anatomy.

The Aquilon Prime also features Toshiba's Adaptive Iterative Dose Reduction (AIDR) that lowers the noise level by up to 50% and reduces patient radiation exposure by up to 75% compared to conventional scanners.

The AIDR suite onboard the Aquilon Prime accelerates image reconstruction at a high-speed of up to 50 images per second performed in parallel to scanning, resulting in images available for verification even before the patient leaves the exam room.

To further reduce the dose, Toshiba's Active Collimator is offered as a standard feature with Aquilion Prime.

The collimator feature, available in all helical protocols, minimizes the effects of helical over-ranging by blocking out excess exposure at the beginning and end of a helical exam and thereby eliminate beam overlap and unnecessary exposure that is not used for diagnosis.

Other features pulled off the high-end Aquilion ONE platform for Aquilion PRIME include dual energy and lung volume measurement.

Dual-energy imaging has demonstrated increased capabilities for tissue characterization using CT by applying X-rays at two different energies.

Toshiba engineers have enhanced this technique with controlled exposure made only from the tableside of the patient, reducing the energy dose while minimizing exposure to radiosensitive organs such as the breasts or eyes.

The lung volume measurement feature automatically detects and measures areas in the lung of low attenuation indicating areas of emphysema, displaying the acquired images in 3-D.

Germany finds med-tech sector 'satisfactory'

German medical technology is in a "satisfactory position," according to a benchmarking study conducted by a state agency, but the report warns some of the sector's current strengths may prove to be weaknesses moving forward.

A summary of the 276-page report from German State Office for Technology Assessment (Büro für Technikfolgen-Abschätzung beim Deutschen Bundestag; TAB) was published in the February issue of MedInsight from the German medical device manufacturers association BVMed (Bundesverband Medizintechnologie, Berlin).

The TAB report notes the nation's medical technology industry holds a leading position globally and that in the most recent economic and financial crisis medical technology was one of the few branches in manufacturing that remained on a growth path.

Strengths of the sector include its strong export orientation, growth dynamics that surpass other industry sectors, and the intensity of research and development activities.

The report cites a 12.3% growth of exports between 2002 and 2006, compared to "merely 7.8% in the manufacturing sector."

Med-tech companies consistently invest up to 10% of annual sales in R&D, "approximately twice as high as in the whole of manufacturing," notes the report.

Significantly, small and medium-sized enterprises with less than 100 employees represent 93% of companies, such that "the German medical technology branch is more strongly characterized by SMEs than is the case in the United States or Japan."

An analysis of the number of patents held by companies, the number of publication from researchers and an overall consensus among industry experts confirms that German holds a powerful technological knowledge base with a well differentiated research infrastructure.

The med-tech sector is confronted with challenges shared with competitors, including increasingly tough international competition, the internationalization of production and marketing structures, and the changing framework in healthcare systems, including the domestic market.

In the domesic market, uncertainties include the increasing complex regulation, the "time-consuming and not always transparent reimbursement procedure, as well as the low growth dynamic of domestic demand are regarded as weaknesses," according to the report.

Weaknesses specific to German med-tech include the vunerability of its SMEs, and an overly strong technical orientation of R&D with a poor orientations to the needs of patients and insurance funds.

Bottlenecks that impede innovative growth in German med-tech include a failure to integrate SMEs in clusters and networks, and "too little willingness on the part of industry to engage in risks and investments to adopt new technologies," according to the TAB report.

A particularly sharp problem for German med-tech companies is finding engineers to fill job vacancies.

The report warns "in the future considerable bottlenecks with regard to highly qualified personnel will have to be reckoned with in the healthcare sector."

Consolidation in German insurance industry

The number of statutory health insurance(SHI) funds continues to decline in Germany, according to BVMed.

In the current issue of the association's monthly report, MedInsight, a dozen insurance funds disappeared in 2010 due to mergers with other funds, and there is not an end in sight for this trend toward consolidation in the sector, according to BVMed.

The association predicts there will be fewer than 100 SHIs by 2014.

The current wave of mergers has been triggered by the introduction of a uniform national contribution rate and the creation of a health pool fund two years ago as part of an overhaul of the nation's healthcare system.

BVMed predicts an overall negative effect for med-tech companies as larger health insurance funds wield greater purchasing power.

An opportunity in the change is the possibility that increased competition between SHIs will increase an emphasis on the quality of care and innovative care models, "offering the potential of strategic partnerships to medical technology companies," according to BVMed.

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