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Market profile: animal ultrasound imaging.

Although the use of animal subjects in the lab remains an issue fraught with ethical quandaries and emotional concerns, animal research has enabled and continues to enable important medical and pharmaceutical advances. Researchers use animal models not only to study particular diseases in a controlled setting, but also to evaluate potential treatments.

Increasingly, in vivo imaging techniques are being applied to this area of research. Most of these methods were first used for imaging human patients, but the technology has now translated into the animal world with "micro" imaging systems designed specifically for use with lab animals.

Among these techniques is ultrasonic imaging. The principle is the same as in a clinical ultrasound system: a transducer sends ultrasonic (high-frequency) sound waves into the body and detects the reflected echoes. These echoes are produced by changes in density that occur, for instance, at the boundary of an organ or tumor. Software converts the timing and intensity of the received signal into a three-dimensional construct of the internal anatomy.

Basic ultrasound is excellent for imaging the anatomy of the test subject's organs and structures. This capability can be sufficient for many research studies and also as an adjunct to other procedures, such as assessing the correct placement of needles and probes. More complicated ultrasound techniques involving the Doppler effect can be used to measure and track bloodflow and cardiovascular activity. Also, as with many other imaging methods, contrast agents can be used to provide better imaging of particular items of interest. Contrast agents have now been developed that display selectivity for particular molecules so that ultrasound can be used as a true molecular imaging technology.

Typically, before the advent of imaging technologies, animal studies could only be carried out (if at all) through the sacrifice of the animal followed by a standard lab analysis of postmortem samples. The ability to test the same animal over a course of treatment produces better data and also reduces the number of animals that must be sacrificed.

Until recently, most ultrasound systems used with animals were clinical systems repurposed for animal studies. Thus, the major players in human ultrasound also have positions in the market for animal ultrasound. However, a few companies also offer models specifically designed for veterinary and research applications. Foremost among them is VisualSonics. The company's Vevo 770 system, which sells for $175,000, is a high-resolution research tool that offers molecular imaging capabilities.

Other companies with animal-specific systems include Pie Medical, Medison and Aloka, although these are generally intended for the veterinary market. The animal ultrasound market for research applications should exceed $40 million this year, with the veterinary market being larger and slower growing.

Animal Ultrasound at a Glance:

Leading Suppliers

* VisualSonics

* Pie Medical (Esaote)

* Medison

Largest Markets

* Academia

* Government

* Pharmaceutical

Instrument Cost

* $50,000-$250,000
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Publication:Instrument Business Outlook
Date:Oct 15, 2006
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