Germany-based medical technology firm Siemens Healthineers has introduced the world’s first CT scanner with photon-counting technology, promising to provide higher quality medical imaging impossible with conventional CT scanners.
The ‘Naeotom Alpha’ was designed to excel in all technical parameters related to image quality, touting an increase in resolution and a reduction in radiation dose. As of present, the Naeotom Alpha has already been cleared for clinical use in the USA and Europe, with more than 20 systems installed, and over 8.000 patients scanned.
“CT exams are widely accepted in a clinical setting, and over 300 million exams performed globally per year. Why is that? CT is known to be fast, it is accurate, and it provides to-the-point decision-making support for radiologists and their referrals. This is the basis we build on, and we move on from that basis because we see that innovation into CT imaging will see further clinical use,” Philipp Fischer, Head of Computed Tomography at Siemens Healthineers, said in a press conference.
“We see that for three different reasons: the access to CT imaging is always increasing in many countries around the globe; we see that the prevalence of diseases in which CT imaging plays a crucial role in treating is also increasing over time; and the clinical relevance of CT imaging is getting higher and higher.”
Mr. Fischer explained that CT imaging is becoming more popular as a first-line diagnostic tool for major diseases like coronary artery disease, as well as playing larger roles in different methods of therapy and even in areas like preventive care and early detection.
Yet, despite its growing relevance, conventional CT imaging has reached technical limitations, namely that resolution can only be improved by small margins and dose cannot be reduced significantly. This is where photon-counting technology can enable drastic improvements.
These improvements, according to Siemens Healthineers, include an increase in resolution and a reduction in radiation dose by up to 45% for ultra-high resolution (UHR) scans compared with conventional CT detectors with a UHR comb filer. Photon-counting scans also contain more useable data, due to the fact that photon-counting technology directly detects each X-ray photon and its energy level instead of first converting it into visible light as with conventional CT imaging.
These aspects combined open up new capabilities, such as scanning a patient’s lung at a high scan speed and getting high-resolution images with inherent spectral information- without the patient having to hold their breath. This spectral information also helps to identify materials inside the body that can even be removed from the image should they obstruct an area of interest. This helps physicians to assess issues quickly and offers the possibility to start treatment early.
Through the reduction in radiation dose, regular examinations, such as lung cancer screenings using CT imaging can become routinely available for larger patient populations. And the high resolution reveals even small structures, taking clinical decision-making to a new level of confidence. The technical complexity of photon-counting CT imaging does not mean increased complexity for the user, thanks to myExam Companion from Siemens Healthineers.
The standard monoenergetic images provided by Naeotom Alpha in every scan allow radiologists to eliminate sources of imprecision.
“More than 15 years ago, work on photon-counting CT and this clinical vision started at Siemens Healthineers. We always believed in the tremendous clinical value and relentlessly worked on it together with our partners,” Mr. Fischer said.
“Today, with the introduction of Naeotom Alpha, we are taking a huge step in furthering patient care in a wide range of clinical domains by effectively showing things impossible to see with conventional CT scans. This required a radical rethinking of practically every technological aspect of computed tomography.”
Profound impact in many clinical fields
Naeotom Alpha brings the first ever combination of dual source and photon-counting detector. Dual source temporal resolution allows us to scan patients at any heart rate.
The clinical fields of cardiac imaging, oncology, and pulmonology all have their own unique demands of medical images. In cardiac imaging, it is capturing the heart while moving, which therefore requires speed.
Naeotom Alpha delivers speed through its Dual Source design and benefits from spectral information and high resolution for removing obstructions caused by calcifications. This enables diagnostic assessment and allows more patients to benefit from CT imaging -even those with a high calcium burden.
The high precision offered by Naeotom Alpha is also highly beneficial in oncology, where reliable and consistent evaluation of disease progress is the most important factor. Therefore, clinical images need to be as conclusive and consistent as possible to make the right decisions.
In pulmonology, images need to contain all meaningful answers in as few scans as possible to avoid delays in treatment and potentially severe consequences for patients. These needs are met and often exceeded by Naeotom Alpha’s features. Its clinical images inherently carry more information than ever possible before for precise diagnosis, follow-up, and treatment.
Lung Images of a post-COVID patient with photon-counting CT. Photo-counting technology allows for simultaneous acquisition and visualization of detailed structures (center image) combined with functional information (image on the right). For comparison, an image acquired with conventional CT technology (on the left).
In over 15 years of research into photon-counting CT imaging, Siemens Healthineers has filed over 500 patents related to this technology and collaborated closely with clinical partners to test and validate the clinical capabilities and use cases. Six prototypes have been evaluated and improved on over the years. In 2021, the company presents the world’s first CT scanner with the new technology, released for clinical use.
More than 20 systems have already been installed and are used in clinical routine. So far, over 8000 patients have been scanned. With a rotation speed of 250 milliseconds and two X-ray tubes and detectors (Dual Source), Naeotom Alpha is not only the first photon-counting CT system on the market, but is also a very powerful, fast, and precise CT scanner.
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