The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting convened in Chicago this year with over 60,000 attendees.
Yes, sixty thousand attendees.
Physicians and medical students of all clinical specialties were joined by technologists, scientists, engineers, researchers, business personnel and many other professionals to network, enhance their educations, hone clinical skills and share cutting-edge research.
A major hallmark of the RSNA conference is participation by the imaging technology industry. Diagnostic radiology and the imaging industry have a longstanding tightknit relationship. The specialty of diagnostic radiology could not exist without the advent of novel imaging technologies, and the imaging industry cannot innovate without clinical direction. It’s a harmonious relationship that RSNA helps catalyze.
This year, over 700 tech exhibitors were present at RSNA, occupying 500,000 square feet—that’s about nine football fields!—to show off their latest and greatest developments.
As a medical student and tech innovator, I wanted to explore the cutting-edge and gain some insight into the innovation process of these groups. I had the chance to meet with some of the major imaging companies along with emerging start-ups. Two imaging advances in particular caught my attention, both from the tech giant Philips Healthcare.
Computed tomography (CT) is a well-established clinical imaging modality. CT scanners exploit differing ability of organs and tissues to attenuate X-ray beams on their way to a detector. Three-dimensional images of the body are reconstructed from this acquired attenuation data.
The IQon Spectral CT System was presented at RSNA as the world’s first spectral-detector CT system. Just as white light is made up of a spectrum of colors, the X-ray beam used in CT scanners is made up of a spectrum of X-ray energies. The new spectral-detector is capable of discriminating between X-ray photons of varying levels of energy. With this detector, a new dimension has been added to CT imaging: clinicians may now view conventional grey-scale images, but also characterize structures based on their material makeup in a single scan.
Digital Photon Counting PET
Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are three-dimensional images that allow clinicians to understand what’s happening inside the body at the cellular and molecular scale. Typical protocol involves a small amount of radiotracer which is injected into the patient, allowed to accumulate in body tissues and organs, and then decays. A PET detector captures pairs of photons that are emitted during this decay process in order to produce an image. Current PET systems utilize analog detectors for their operation.
The Vereos All-Digital PET/CT System, introduced at RSNA 2013, exploits proprietary “digital photon counting” technology to implement a digital silicon photomultiplier—the first of its kind in the industry. The digital system increases sensitivity gain, improves volumetric resolution, and improves quantitative accuracy as compared to analog systems. Clinically, that means improved image quality and diagnostic confidence.
Both of these imaging technologies are exciting developments for the field of diagnostic radiology. Adoption of new technology is typically a slow process, so it may take some time before we see such modalities in the clinic. Regardless, they represent excellent progress in diagnostic capability and patient care.
Aside from hearing about these (very cool) advances in imaging, I was also interested in how they came about: the innovation process. I spoke with a number of research and development engineers, scientists and business directors.
A common theme emerged: each of these companies form close relationships with radiologists in order to observe their workflow and dynamic. The imaging industry heavily invests in understanding the radiologist’s biggest challenges, and incorporates those understandings into the development of novel products to meet complex imaging needs. Innovators comprehensively define the problem at hand in order to develop an effective solution.
The takeaway from RSNA 2013 is that medical technology as a whole is an incredibly fruitful route to improving health care. Due to advances in medical technology, clinical capability is constantly expanding and patient care constantly improving. The aforementioned developments only scratch the surface of what we’re potentially capable of—I’m excited for what the future of medical technology holds.