VIENNA, Austria — At the European Congress of Cardiology here last week, Philips Healthcare (Eindhoven, the Netherlands) rolled out a new 3 Tesla MRI machine to enter a market its says is rapidly expanding and currently dominated by GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin) and Siemens (Erlangen, Germany).
Boosting the power of an MRI provides higher resolution but also poses a higher risk to patients and Philips engineered the new Achieva 3.0T X-Series to deliver distinguishing features on both counts.
Robert Körbler, managing director for healthcare in Austria with Philips, said the company's analysis shows installations of 3 Tesla machines have grown from less than 10% of the MRI market to almost a third of units sold today.
In Europe, Siemens leads the market, he said, with GE strong in the UK and France, but that GE "disappears in Germany, Austria and Switzerland."
Philips' installed base in Europe is stronger than North America and it would be ranked third on the Old Continent, he said.
Sales of 3 Tesla machines started off strong but then stalled in 2004-2006 due to reports of risk of injury to patients caused by overheating.
"The requirement with 3 Tesla was to let a patient cool down between exposures, and in some early cases, this was improperly done," said Körbler, adding that it would be fair to say the risk is to cook a patient with the microwave-like strength.
Competitors offer insulating pads for patients to absorb the extra energy, he said, or require long periods between scans for the patients to cool down.
Philips is taking a different approach with the Achieva 3.0T, offering a novel dual-source transmission of the radio frequency (RF) that is safer for patients while also rendering the higher resolution images.
With the 3.0T X-Series Philips engineered the transmission from dual coils with different phasings at the same frequency.
In the initial phase a pulse is fired to determine patient-specific parameters for density.
In the following phase opposing coils send tailored signals adapted to the patient's anatomy that optimizes the specific absorption rate (SAR) and reduces the risk of overheating.
Dual-transmission also reduces procedure time, he said.
In a study conducted by Bonn University (Bonn, Germany), an average 3 Tesla scan with a single transmitter required 4-1/2 minutes, while the Philips dual-source technology completed the same scan in two minutes and 23 seconds.
In musculoskeletal procedures, the time reduction was less significant, though reduced by one minute and 20 seconds from an 8-1/2 minute procedure with conventional single-source transmission.
"Multi-source transmission is 40% faster on average," Körbler said.
Dual source transmision also greatly enhances image quality, he said, by eliminating a phenomen with 3 Tesla machine called dielectric shading, which was the primary objective for Philips engineers in developing the novel technology.
"Think of a light bulb," Körbler said, "it casts shadow behind the object it is illuminating. But if two lights are used from opposite directions, the shadow is removed," he said, showing a series of before-and-after images with shadows on single source RF images vs. even resolution across the Philips dual source images.
"The difference is going from underdiagnosed conditions to a correct, confident diagnosis," he said.
Körbler said the Achieva 3.0 T X-Series is priced under €3 million ($3.84 million) "and if an institution is buying two units, it may come at less than €2 million per unit," he said.
He said the installation of 3.0 T-X machines are scheduled for Austria before the end of 2009, "and I know there is at least one installation already scheduled in Germany."
Körbler said another market advantage for Philips is that the dual-transmission technology can be installed by customers as an upgrade to exisiting 3 Tesla machines and the Achieva XR system can be ramped from 1.5 Tesla to 3 Tesla.
A short-bore version of the Achieva 3.0 T X-Series is available in a mobile configuration, the only 3 Tesla machine that can be transported to remote locations.
The semi-tractor trailer is field-ready for "park, plug and scan" upon arrival.
Philips opens Panorama MRI sales in Europe
At ECR 2009 Philips also launched in Europe the Panorama vertical high-field MRI open platform, offering a 360-degree open platform with 160 cm wide (63-inch) patient aperture.
Open-platform sales fell off from 2004-2007 due to their lower power ranging from 0.3 Tesla to 0.7 Tesla.
According to Philips, the Panorama renders resolutions comparable to conventional vertical bore 1.5 Tesla machines, pushing performance of a 1 Tesla vertical field, while offering freedom of movement for patient positioning during a scan.
"Promoting these machines for the claustrophobic patient is nonsense," said Körbler. "The real drivers for purchasing the open platform are neuro and orthopedic applications," he said.
With a conventional bore, the patient's arms are either pinned to their sides or else extended out of the bore above their head," he explained.
The open platform facilitates a study of movement of the knees and shoulders, he said, adding that for neurology, an open platform is more conducive to intraoperative procedures.
Körbler said Philips is installing four Panorama MRIs in Austria and the company expects the higher power for open-platform MRIs will push sales for this segment above 8% of MRI sales this year. n