Photon-counting technology enables improvements in CT scanning
Siemens Healthineers has launched Naeotom Alpha, said to be the world’s first photon-counting CT scanner. The system has recently been cleared for clinical use in the USA and Europe.
Conventional CT imaging has reached its technical limitations: resolution can only be improved by small margins and dose cannot be reduced significantly; Photon-counting technology enables drastic improvements. These improvements 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. This would be impossible with conventional detectors. Photon-counting scans 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.
“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,” says Philipp Fischer, head of computed tomography at Siemens Healthineers. “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,” Fischer continues.
Profound impact in many clinical fields
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 thanks to 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.
Expanding the leading role of CT imaging in clinical decision-making
The implications of this innovation from Siemens Healthineers are far reaching for patients and physicians and may profoundly change the way that CT imaging is performed: It adds clinical value for fast and reliable diagnoses by the physician by improving image quality, potentially leading to less uncertainty for physicians and patients. The new technology helps in almost every clinical field, but especially when fine structures have to be evaluated. Customer feedback from testing with actual final systems confirm that ambition: “We have been working with our own Naeotom Alpha CT since April 2021 and are very impressed by initial results: In oncology, we can break down more precisely which tumor types we are dealing with and thus treat them in a more targeted and effective way. It is like a veil that is now lifting. The new technology is a radical improvement on previous imaging. This will redefine our clinical decision-making right from scan one,” says Professor Thomas Kröncke, MD, head of the department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, University Hospital Augsburg.
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.