Siemens Healthcare (Malvern, Pennsylvania) Vice President of Sales and Marketing Andre Hartung got straight to two very crucial points when discussing the company's latest offering, the Somatom Definition Flash CT scanner. "It uses less radiation for scanning and is much faster than the current technology available," he said during a web conference.

The company is in the process of presenting the device at the 94th annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA; Oak Brook Illinois) in Chicago, which ends Friday.

The Somatom Definition Flash is a new dual-source CT from Siemens, featuring two X-ray tubes that simultaneously revolve around the patient's body.

"The dual-source CT enables scanning with two different energies and makes a diagnosis on where something is and what it is," Hartung said.

In addition, because of Somatom's scanning speed, patients are no longer required to hold their breath during the exam the way they had in the past. At the same time, the Somatom Definition Flash operates at an extremely reduced radiation dose.

Here's how it works:

The patient is moved through the CT tube while scans are acquired with the Somatom Definition Flash at a much lower radiation dose than conventional scans.

Currently the average effective dose for a heart CT scanner ranges from 8 millseconds to 40 milliseconds. The new Siemens CTscanner gets by with less than 1 millsecond.

By way of comparison, the X-ray radiation that everyone is exposed to each year from natural sources amounts to 2 mSv to 5mSv.

The dose values of the new Siemens CT scanner are below those of an intracardiac catheter examination, thus opening up possibilities for using CT scanners for routine cardiological examinations.

"Due to the high scanning speed, it is now possible to acquire scans of the thorax, the heart or both at the same time in fractions of a second. For example, thorax examinations now only require a scan time of 0.6 seconds. As a result, patients no longer have to hold their breath during the scan. This offers considerable advantages, especially in cases involving the elderly, children, emergency, and ICU patients," Hartung said.

It also is possible to perform whole-body scans extremely fast. Siemens said a person with a height of 6 feet 6 inches could be scanned in less than 4.7 seconds. Previously such whole-body examinations took more than 10 minutes to perform from patient preparation to diagnosis. With the Somatom Definition Flash, this process is completed in just a few minutes.

Hartung added that this represents an advantage, especially for emergency medicine since, until now, physicians often had to forego this examination method due to time pressure.

Furthermore, it is no longer necessary to sedate children prior to the examination, since they no longer have to remain still. The high scanning speed also makes it possible to cover large areas measuring up to 48 cm with 4-D imaging (3-D plus time).

A scan of the entire heart can be performed in only 250 milliseconds, which is less than half a heartbeat. In addition, it is possible for physicians to reliably display a heart with a fast pulse or an irregular heartbeat without using beta blockers, thus simplifying the workflow and yielding clinical and financial advantages.

Thus, the Somatom Definition Flash can provide a double contrast which, for the first time, also can be used to classify the chemical composition of tissues via a CT scan in routine daily work. Subsequently, it could also be used to reconstruct unenhanced CT images without contrast media.

Siemens says the Somatom Definition Flash is the only CT scanner on the market that enables the use of noninvasive cardiological diagnostic techniques as routine applications at the lowest possible radiation exposure levels.

Siemens Healthcare places more than 2,300 CT systems a year.