Siemens Healthcare (Mountain View, California) unveiled its Acuson SC2000 volume imaging ultrasound system, which it says is the first system to acquire non-stitched, real-time full-volume 3-D images of the heart in one single heart cycle, during the 19th annual meeting of the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE; Raleigh, North Carolina) in Toronto.

Calling it "Echo in a Heartbeat," Siemens said the new technology marks "the greatest paradigm shift in ultrasound since the introduction of 2-D imaging in the late 1970s." Instantaneous, non-stitched full-volume imaging comes 55 years after echocardiography pioneers Inge Edler and Hellmuth Hertz acquired the world's first cardiac ultrasound recording using Siemens technology in 1953, the company said.

Louise Kruz, senior marketing manager for echocardiography solutions at Siemens Ultrasound business unit, told Medical Device Daily that Siemens had to overcome a few technical challenges to make the Acuson SC2000 stand out from the competition.

"Currently the products on the market use a stitched image, because they are limited by how much information and the rate at which they can acquire it they stitch shorter images together to cover the entire cardiac structure," she said. "The Acuson SC2000 can acquire at such a rate that we can cover the whole heart, a 90-degree by 90-degree imaging angle, and an acceptable frame rate at 20 or greater."

"The heart is a moving organ, so if you have to stitch something together you're kind of corrupting the clinical information," Kruz said, noting that the Acuson SC2000 offers purer information because it images one cardiac structure on the same heartbeat.

Another challenge that all other systems that do stitched imaging face, she said, is that those images often are gated by the ECG, an electrical tracing of the heart, so when the patient has an arrhythmia it makes it difficult to image. Also, patients who cannot hold their breath is a problem for clinicians using a stitched-imaging ultrasound system. With the Acuson SC2000, the patient does not have to hold their breath.

"Innovation has always been the lifeblood of Siemens, and the Acuson SC2000 volume ultrasound system is delivering on this promise," said Klaus Hambuechen, CEO, ultrasound for Siemens Medical Solutions USA. "The system has unparalleled capabilities in information rate processing that allow us to acquire a full volume of the entire heart with 90 degree pyramids. With a high-volume acquisition rate like this in one second, every second acquisition time is dramatically reduced, improving the overall workflow in the echocardiography suite."

Siemens says that the Acuson SC2000 system "is Siemens' premier cardiology platform that will change the way echocardiography is practiced today."

The company says Acuson's architecture delivers vastly more information than conventional systems and is strengthened by Siemens' Coherent Volume Formation technology. Coupled with the system's high-volume acquisition rate, Coherent Volume Formation moves away from serial line-by-line acquisition towards simultaneous, multiple beams, delivering excellent image resolution, Siemens said.

The 4Z1c transducer features active cooling technology, enabling full output power within regulatory limits, according to the company. This results in improved penetration, reduced noise and high-volume acquisition rates when compared to conventional 3-D transducers. The 4Z1c is a single transducer solution for adult echo applications that provides all the modes needed: volume imaging, 2-D, M-mode, color Doppler and spectral Doppler.

The Acuson system is designed to support advanced cardiovascular applications. The knowledge-based workflow software uses learned pattern recognition technology and an expert database of real clinical cases. This enables the system to recognize anatomical patterns and landmarks, as well as to perform automatic measurements streamlining clinical workflow.

The system automatically derives reference plane images from the full-volume cardiac capture dataset and offers automated full-volume contouring for fast qualitative and quantitative analysis. Customizable, programmable, and protocol-driven workflow sequences deliver repeatability for better outcomes: greater efficiency, accuracy, consistency, and care from data acquisition to diagnosis. To further enhance efficiency, the offline workstation enables reporting, as well as complete review and processing of the acquired volumes.

According to Siemens, it has addressed the ergonomics of the system to meet and exceed today's recommended ergonomic guidelines to reduce work-related stress injuries and to accommodate the varied work environment of sonographers.

Another challenge for competing ultrasound systems, Kruz told MDD, is patients who are difficult to image, such as those who are obese, those who smoke, or a patient who has end-stage renal disease. Patients who are considered difficult to image make up about 30% of the patient population, which she said probably is understated.

"Siemens has a reputation for going after the difficult-to-image patient," Kruz said. "We target the hard ones, not the easy ones, because everyone can do the easy patients."