Road to RSNA 2007: MRI Preview

The MRI market experienced a tough year in 2007. Scanner sales in the U.S. dropped due to the reimbursement cuts implemented by the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005, which forced many outpatient imaging centers to cut back on capital equipment purchases as they struggle for survival.

Mri PdfAt the same time, concerns over gadolinium contrast reactions, in the form of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF), gave MRI providers an extra headache to worry about. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May announced that gadolinium-based agents would be required to carry a black box warning label, and contrast providers revised their labeling and sent letters to healthcare providers earlier this month.

Despite the woes, MRI remains medical imaging's premier modality, with unparalleled image quality that's paying off for an increasing number of clinical applications.

In 2007, new clinical studies highlighted the modality's utility in breast imaging, such as a study in the August 2007 edition of Radiology that found that MRI beat another adjunctive breast imaging modality, ultrasound, in detecting cancers in high-risk women. The positive results have been enough to prompt the American Cancer Society to recommend the use of MRI along with conventional mammography for the annual screening of high-risk women.

MRI vendors are addressing the NSF issue by turning lemons into lemonade, developing new techniques for imaging without contrast. Look for a number of vendors on the RSNA show floor to discuss their protocols for contrast-free imaging.

Niche MRI scanners are also getting more attention, both for breast and extremity applications. The systems are often pitched as lower-cost alternatives that can take some of the workload off whole-body scanners.

An unanswered question is whether the DRA's impact has taken the steam out of what had been a growing clinical market for 3-tesla MRI scanners. Look for MRI vendors to address this issue by highlighting enhancements and upgrades that make these powerful scanners easier and more cost-effective to operate.

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