(left to right) Medison SonoAce 9900; PowerVision 8000; B-K Medical’s Merlin; Agilent Sonos 4500

2000 may become known as the “Year of Consolidation” in the ultrasound market.

Siemens Medical Engineering Group (Erlangen, Germany) purchased Acuson Corp. (Mountain View, Calif.) in November, while Philips Medical Systems International B.V. (Best, the Netherlands) moved to acquire Agilent Technologies Inc.’s (Palo Alto, Calif.) Healthcare Solutions Group (HSG of Andover, Mass.). As of press time, the Philips-HSG transaction was pending.

One plus for buyers could be the number of ultrasound units with service contracts that likely will increase tremendously, as OEMs offer better service than the smaller vendors. As far as new product development is concerned, Doug Orr, president of J&M Consulting (Ridgefield, Conn.), advocates a wait-and-see stance.

“It is not a fait accompli that research and development budgets will be cut,” Orr says. “Research-and-development dollars will be managed and prioritized more than before. There likely will be less basic research and more evolutionary development of products.”

The ultrasound market revenues reached $2.54 billion in 1998. Observers forecast a compound annual growth rate of 7 percent until 2004, when the market could hit $3.81 billion. After 2004, Frost & Sullivan analysts predict that the market will continue to grow, but at a slower rate.

At RSNA 2000, Agilent’s HSG debuted a new addition to its ultrasound line — the Sonos 4500.

Linda C. Carlson, HSG’s multispecialty marketing manager, said that cardiology customers are asking for more flexibility, so the Sonos 4500 is designed for a variety of applications, including abdominal, ob/gyn, pediatric, small parts, cardiac and vascular imaging.

Sonos 4500 began shipping in November, targeting the mid-tier hospital market with a list price in the $140,000 range.

ATL Ultrasound (Bothell, Wash.) showcased its second-generation SonoCT technology at RSNA. SonoCT brings expanded capabilities, such as ATL’s real-time compounding technology, to a broader range of scanheads. It merges those capabilities with advanced signal processing techniques, such as tissue harmonic imaging, and with display technologies, such as 3D and panoramic ultrasound.

Second-generation SonoCT is available on ATL’s top-of-the-line HDI 5000 ultrasound system or as an upgrade for existing HDI 5000 systems. Brown quoted prices of $150,000-plus, depending upon options, for the HDI 5000 with SonoCT; $120,000 to $190,000 for the HDI 5000 without SonoCT; $80,000 to $140,000 for the HDI 3500; and $50,000 to $80,000 for the HDI 1500.

Siemens Medical Systems Inc.’s Ultrasound Group (Issaquah, Wash.) concentrated on software upgrade packages.

Siemens introduced SieClear Multi-View spatial compounding, designed to improve the definition of subtle lesions, boundaries and interfaces in ultrasound images. SieClear increases contrast resolution and reduces speckle, which improves tissue differentiation.

Siemens also previewed its 3D Express ultra-fast 3D rendering software for the Omnia and Sienna ultrasound systems. Already a feature on the Elegra, 3D Express acquires 3D images of a fetus using a linear or rocked acquisition technique.

Software upgrades began shipping Dec. 1.

UltraGuide Inc.’s (Lakewood, Colo.) flagship product, US-Guide, offers freehand guidance for ultrasound interventions. Its proprietary 3D triangulation algorithm provides guidance directly to the target, using either in-plane or out-of-plane modes, and is compatible with virtually any ultrasound system.

Its newest product available for sale in the U.S. is the CT-Guide, which features the same proprietary technology, in this case while using either conventional in-slice or out-of-slice modes, and respiratory gating, which monitors the real-time motion of the target relative to its position at the time of the scan to enable the physician to overcome inaccuracies due to breathing.

The company’s third product is a works-in-progress MR-Guide, which Oded Meirav, UltraGuide vice president of marketing, said operates with the same features as the CT-Guide, particularly respiratory gating, and also works with open and closed MRI systems.

Acuson showed off some new technology for its Sequoia platform, namely Tissues Equalization Technology (TEQ), Cadence contrast agent imaging (CCI) and agent detection imaging (ADI).

TEQ works to sharpen an image via brightness with the simple push of a button. The result is a consistent image without the clutter that gets in the way of a radiologist’s reading and diagnosis. Acuson said the technology will be useful at the patient bedside where lighting is not always optimal as well as in serial follow-up studies.

The new Cadence contrast agent imaging package, which includes CCI and ADI, is based on coherent pulse formation technology which provides high sensitivity to contrast agent harmonic echoes while maintaining high frame rates. CCI permits continuous imaging of contrast agents without destroying the bubbles, thus allowing the real-time results from the contrast agent without destroying the agent. ADI isolates and separates the contrast echoes from tissue echoes; as a result, the physician can see the additional information the contrast agent provides easily and clearly.

New software and hardware made the rounds of Toshiba’s ultrasound display, with the company unveiling new PowerVision 8000 system applications and new high-frequency transducers.

The Power Vision 8000 is a 512-channel ultrasound system for whole-body radiology and cardiology imaging. Its new features include 3D imaging options, such as surface-rendered fetal face imaging, volume-rendered fusion 3D and quantitative volume 3D, as 2D works-in-progress applications, such as dynamic flow, which ensures high-resolution representative of blood flow in B-mode.

RSNA rookie, 3dMD (Atlanta), debuted medical surface imaging software products capable of acquiring a 3D image of the human face or human torso. The DSP 400 and DSP 800, which capture volume measurements and assessing volumetric change, are aimed primarily at cosmetic surgeons. The software helps capture the shapes of objects instantaneously, as well as photo-realistic texture and skin tone, making it applicable for facial and breast surgery.

Fellow RSNA rookie, Biomedicom Ltd. (Omaha, Neb.), offers a transducer/software package — called BabyFace — that enables conventional 2D ultrasound scanners to upgrade to 3D. The upgraded system is designed to generate 3D fetal images, an increasingly important marketing tool for obstetricians.

The market for hand-held ultrasound devices also is expected to rally in the near future, with SonoSite Inc. (Bothell) leading the way.

SonoSite’s SonoHeart, which is priced between $20,000 and $40,000 depending on features and options, offers enough performance for entry-level procedures. Cardiologists compare it to an electronic stethoscope and SonoSite is taking that approach in marketing the unit.

Another entry in the low cost market is mysono. Developed and marketed by Medison America Inc. (Cypress, Calif.), mysono is a portable, notebook-sized ultrasound unit priced under $10,000.

Medison targets the mid-range market with the SonoAce 9900. With a price tag in the $55,000 to $85,000 range, this DICOM ready system carries a digital NT Windows platform and multibeam 3D capability for higher resolution. The SonoAce 9900 also features 2D imaging, color and power Doppler, harmonics, contrast harmonics, and continuous and pulse wave Doppler.

B-K Medical (Wilmington, Mass.) introduced its first portable ultrasound system. The Merlin targets the private physician office market and features increased focalization in near and far fields, a 10-inch black-and-white monitor and continuous uniform focus for optimal, uniform resolution throughout the image. B-K Medical is a subsidiary of Analogic Corp. (Peabody, Mass.).