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  • Technology advances drive MRI imaging scanner market

May 2009
Caren B. Les,

SAN ANTONIO – Technological breakthroughs will help the MRI imaging scanner market weather the economic downturn, according to industry analysts at market research firm Frost & Sullivan. The analysts examined low-field (<1.5 T), mid-field (1.5 T) and high-field (3 T) MRI scanning technology for a report titled North American Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanners Market, which was published in December 2008. Vendors are investing in the marketing of new technologies that are designed to streamline the clinical work flow and expedite patient throughput. These efforts have helped the industry to post a single-digit growth rate in 2008, countering a trend in declining sales, according to the analysts.

The clinical MRI imaging modality is known for providing high soft-tissue contrast, functional and structural information, and imagery in any plane and in 3-D, without ionizing radiation.

SBMRI_iStock_000004032715Medium.jpgGrowth in 3-T MRI

According to Frost & Sullivan, 3-T MRI is emerging as a standard of clinical care, especially for musculoskeletal imaging. The report notes that hospitals are increasing their investments in the technology and in intraoperative suites with MR-compatible equipment, such as the neuroArm – which could effect significant change in the way surgery is performed. Launched in 2007, the neuroArm is an MRI-compatible image-guided computer-assisted device that is designed for neurosurgery. Suitable for microsurgery and biopsy-stereotaxy applications, the robotic system includes a workstation, a system control cabinet and two remote MR-compatible manipulators mounted on a mobile base. The surgeon controls the robotic arms in the workstation with the assistance of 3-D MRI displays. The utility of intraoperative MRI lies in its ability to obtain near-real-time brain imaging during neurosurgical procedures, according to an article titled The Future of Intra-Operative Magnetic Resonance Imaging by Richard G. Ellenbogen and Timothy H. Lucas, published October 2008 in US Neurological Disease 2006.

A broad market

Approximately 800 Siemens 3-T systems have been sold in 46 countries, according to Dr. Ioannis Panagiotelis, global marketing manager for the MRI division of Siemens AG, based in Munich, Germany. The company’s Magnetom Trio systems, introduced in 2005, are currently installed in more than 200 universities and university hospitals worldwide, as stated in Panagiotelis’ editorial, which appeared in Siemens’ publication Magnetom Flash, Vol. 1, 2009. This special 3-T edition issue includes articles on the use of 3 T in private practice, in pediatrics and in intraoperative applications.

Advances in imaging protocols for T1-weighted 3-D imaging and 3-D Fourier transform imaging have enabled greater diagnostic accuracy and shorter scan times for patients, according to Frost & Sullivan. Innovative radio-frequency coil designs such as multitransit phase-array body coils could lead to greater electrical efficiency. Together these advances have minimized synthetic aperture radar without affecting contrast. The analysts recommend further development of image acquisition protocols and body coils to add greater clinical value to 3-T MRI.

Cost is a barrier

The initial costs of 3-T MRI imaging equipment have thus far prevented its adoption into mainstream clinical settings, despite the modality’s advantages for patient care and the hospital work flow. The revenue for 3-T MRI imagers increased by more than 20 percent in 2008, according to Frost & Sullivan analysts, who also predict that 3-T scanners could overtake the 1.5-T MRI market. MRI is moving from being simply a diagnostic tool to becoming a functional and structural imaging modality, according to analysts.

Makers of ultrashort open-bore MRI scanners also are seeing sales gains as a result of the rising numbers of obese and elderly patients who require imaging, according to Frost & Sullivan.

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