As 2007 begins, I thought it would be interesting to focus on the technological breakthroughs that we can expect in the next 12 months. To help me formulate such a list, I consulted HYPRES Inc, Elmsford, NY. Elie K. Track, PhD, is senior partner of the company that develops superconducting microelectronics technology, which, he explains, “leverages the properties of superconductors to provide high speed, high sensitivity, low power dissipation, and no distortion of signals.” Track compiled a list of 2007 breakthroughs that he expects to use this technology. To build my own such inventory, I consulted Track’s list and added to it from developments I saw at RSNA 2006.
1) An advanced, low-cost, open-bore MRI machine. By leveraging the tiny magnetic fields enabled by superconducting technology, it will be easier and cheaper to screen for disease, including breast cancer and brain tumors. According to Track, “Superconducting technology already is used in current MRI systems through the superconducting magnets that generate the large magnetic field. The new approach will leverage another feature of superconducting technology: ultra?high-sensitivity magnetic sensors to reduce the need for the high magnetic field.” Track explains that much smaller magnets will be used, which will significantly reduce the scanner’s cost, size, and weight. In light of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, a lower-cost MRI is exactly what many imaging centers and smaller facilities might need to be around in 2008.
2) PET/MR. I peeked at this during RSNA in the booth of Siemens Medical Solutions, Malvern, Pa. The company was highlighting as a work-in-progress its BrainPET, a technology that enables PET and MR imaging to occur simultaneously. Siemens Medical researchers have re-created the PET scanner by using electronic chips instead of photodiodes so that there is no disruption to the magnetic field. The system can simply be placed into the MRI’s bore and be removed when it isn’t needed. The availability of PET/MR will be an asset to neuroimaging because the sensitivity of MR is not as a good as PET, and the specificity of PET is not as a good as MR. Combined, the two will provide incredible diagnostic images.
3) Ultra?high-speed Internet switches. These switches will enable faster transmission of data, and superconducting microelectronics could lead to the development of 100-Tbps routers this year. Today, the average router at larger facilities is 10 Gbps. The impact on teleradiology and remote access to PACS is a more efficient workflow and quicker access to images, enabling an earlier diagnosis. Of course, we do need to be realistic in our expectations—both of the network and financially. According to Hwa Kho, PhD, director of imaging informatics at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center, and a member of the Medical Imaging Editorial Advisory Board, “The key is that it could ‘potentially’ be thousands of times faster, but the speed is still going to be limited, among other things, by the size of the pipe that goes to the end device—typically 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps right now—and how fast the CPU at the other end can cope with the incoming data.”
4) True handheld ultrasound. At RSNA, I saw two vendors with different versions of this capability. First, GE Healthcare, Waukesha, Wis, showcased a 1-pound scanner with a 2D ceramic array transducer that is 3 to 5 years out. The scanner, which looked similar to a PDA, could be used to capture images that will be read later, or used in home health care. And second, Siemens Medical demonstrated the Acuson P10, a pocket-sized ultrasound scanner that weighs 1 1/2 pounds and is awaiting FDA clearance. Geared toward quick-look ultrasound, the P10 has a 5-second boot-up time and recharges at a docking station. Both of these scanners illustrate the ubiquity of ultrasound—a modality that doesn’t radiate, is portable, provides on-the-spot visuals, and, in my opinion, should be used much more than it currently is.
These four items are just a handful of the technological breakthroughs we can expect to see in 2007 and beyond. What important innovations do you believe are missing from my list? E-mail me your ideas, and I’ll share them with the rest of our readers. I look forward to hearing from you!
Andi Lucas, editor