Wow, what a leap in technology. When I have discussions with administrators on what’s up and coming in imaging technology, the first thing that comes to mind is big boxes that cost millions. In the world of imaging, not a whole lot of discussions at this level are directed to contrast agents. I have been following nano-based contrast agents since my first evolving technology conference years ago and am pretty excited about what’s in store.
For example, a recent MIT technology review article has stated that researchers have developed nano-based agents that are 15 times more sensitive than existing compounds. A nanoparticle is a molecule that ranges from 1 nm to 100 nm in length and, because of their size, can also reach multiple areas of the body.
This sounds exciting, but how does this translate to better outcomes and the bottom line? On the clinical side, the increased spatial resolution allows the ability to identify pathologies at the molecular level. This will assist physicians in identifying tumors at their earliest stages and the classification of vulnerable plaque in the coronary arteries.
I had a discussion with Dr. Alexander R. Margulis, MD, clinical professor of radiology at Weil Medical College at Cornell University New York, about the added cost of contrast material and he stated, Considering how expensive an overall study that includes the hospital and doctors fee, the contrast is not that much more expensive. The big question is what it contributes to the study. If it contributes a great deal, then the cost is not very relevant. If it does not contribute much, why use it at all?
So what does it cost? Early projection is that nano-based contrast agents range from $700 to $800 per dose. In comparison, non-nano-based contrast agents range from $50 to $80 per dose. The contrast agent market is already a $3 billion per year industry in the U.S. and will continue to grow at rates of 10 to 12% per year.
But there is a positive trade off to the 10-time increase in costs. This new technology will allow for more imaging studies to be performed with MRI, CT, and basic X-ray than cath labs and PET studies. Considering these are $2,000 to $4,000 studies, $800 is a bargain, and in this economy, who isn’t looking for a bargain?