6 min readMagnetic Resonance Imaging: Market Trends

MRI systems represent one of the strongest markets in the medical imaging industry. MRI is a non-invasive method of using a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the inside of the human body. It was originally used to view the central nervous system. With time, its use has expanded to study the internal anatomical structures of the human body.

The hydrogen protons inside our body have magnetic property which, when placed inside a large magnet, like the MRI machine, can be magnetised. An additional magnetic field introduced in the form of pulses that excite the hydrogen protons to higher energy level interact with the tissues giving rise to electromagnetic signals. These are then acquired and converted into images according to their energy content. Ever since the technology came into existence, it has been considered as a ‘miracle technology’. However magnetisable items on or in the body, such as aneurysm clips, pacemakers, metallic implants etc. make the procedure inadvisable.

These images can be used for diagnostic purposes, for guiding invasive surgery and other intervention procedures. The ability to image soft tissues and organs sets apart MRI from other imaging modality. Due to this, MRI is one of the most powerful and widely employed diagnostic tools by physicians today. Apart from being used by radiologists, MRI plays an important role as a research tool as well, especially with regards to functional MRI.

The European MRI market is oligopolistic in nature. It is highly consolidated, with very few participants. The major participants like GE Healthcare, Siemens Medical Solutions and Philips Medical Systems dominate the market.

This market is constantly seeing technology upgrades through more sophisticated systems, negatively affecting sales of earlier systems and technology. Thus, the earlier systems below 1 Tesla are going through a market decline, while the high field systems are expected to continue to grow at high rates by replacing low field systems. The ultra high field systems market is growing, but at a rate slower than expected.

Despite being a mature technology, MRI has grown rapidly over the past few years due to its vast range of clinical applications and proven clinical research track record. Certain clinical application like MRI for cardiovascular imaging, breast imaging and so on are the most promising ones. At present, musculoskeletal and abdomen imaging are the most popular applications; however, the proportion of procedural volumes for cardiac and breast MRI is increasing and is set to increase in future.

The following newer advances are also available:

  • MR angiography
  • MR cholangio-pancreatography
  • Cardiac MRI for structure and function
  • MRI spectroscopy for biochemical evaluation of abnormalities
  • Prostate MRI with spectroscopy.

Some of the new application areas where MRI has expanded are as follows:

Neuro applications: This is a relatively new, sophisticated MRI technique-Perfusion Weighted Imaging (PWI) which can help identify regions that are highly perfused with blood vessels – a common characteristic of tumours. Another technique, Diffusion Weighted Imaging, DWI, is very helpful in the detection of the direction of diffusion or water movement. This method is very useful in the early detection of stroke. The MR spectroscopy (MRS) technique is used to identify abnormal quantities of specific biomolecules found in regions such as the brain. MR spectroscopy is an indicator of, heart failure, valve disease, myocardial viability etc.

Intraoperative MRI: Intervention applications for MRI are on the rise these days. At present, there are a growing number of image-guided minimally invasive procedures, such as biopsies. There are currently North American and Israeli participants active in the market, namely, Odin and Imris. Odin Medical Technologies, which has now been acquired by Medtronic Navigation, provides an intraoperative system for brain surgeries. Safety is an issue here, as even biopsies require staff, equipment, and supplies in the magnet room that would not otherwise be in a suite used for strictly diagnostic imaging. Intraoperative systems are mainly being used in university hospitals at present, but there is scope for growth by targeting larger hospitals. The major participants could concentrate on bringing out intraoperative systems. There exists a scope for tremendous amounts of innovation in this particular field.

Healthcare IT

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