SonoSite’s New Frontier: High-Res Ultrasound to See a Mouse Heartbeat, the Inside of Your Blood Vessels, & More

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6.6 percent last year to $227 million. It was partly because of a tough market, as hospitals tightened their belts on purchasing new equipment in the recession.

So SonoSite is counting on the Visualsonics acquisition to pay off in a much bigger way over time. The plan has a couple key components. First, it will boost sales of the existing technology overseas, where Visualsonics has never really had the money or manpower to fulfill its potential. More importantly, SonoSite is planning to take the new company’s high-resolution technology and marry it with its in-house miniaturization experts to create a cheaper, easier-to-use product.

That product development effort ought to result in a new portable, super high-resolution ultrasound tool by late 2012 or early 2013, Goodwin says. It will cost $50,000 or less, much lower than the current tool from Visualsonics. And it will be aimed at visualizing things in human beings, not just animals.

SonoSite has some ideas about how exactly this new capability might be used. One obvious place is in the neonatal intensive care units of hospitals, where doctors may want a cheap and easy way to visualize what’s happening inside tiny, premature babies. Then there is pediatric oncology, in which ultrasound isn’t currently used to visualize how, say, chemotherapy might be affecting a tumor. Dermatologists don’t use ultrasound now, but they might try it if they had a tool that was sensitive enough to see if the wrinkle filler they prescribed was really doing a good enough job just below the skin. Tissue engineers might use it to see if their concoctions are working or not. Probes mounted on catheters could be so sharp as to distinguish between arterial blockages that are vulnerable to breaking off and causing a stroke, or tell whether those plaques are actually pretty safe and stable.

“You can see what you have never seen before,” Goodwin told analysts. “The biggest application is yet to be determined. It lies in the imagination of our future clinical users.”

Of course, a million things can go wrong in an acquisition. SonoSite is retaining the Visualsonics team of about 100 people in Toronto, and their management will report up to Goodwin’s executive team in Seattle. SonoSite now has about 770 people worldwide, Goodwin says. The cultures might not fit, the product might not launch on time, or the markets might not materialize the way SonoSite and Visualsonics expect they will for super high-resolution ultrasound.

But that’s all part of the risk that comes with the territory with an innovative undertaking. None of SonoSite’s competitors are anywhere close with a rival product, Goodwin says. He makes it plain that this new acquisition is meant to keep his company out in front of the pack.

“We’ve been innovating for 12 years around conventional ultrasound, through both miniaturization and simplification, and with market development for new users,” Goodwin says. “SonoSite is now on its way to having 60,000 systems installed. We are the unequivocal leader in our market. Now we’re bringing a new layer. We are bringing greater access to visualization in medicine. It’s for the betterment of medicine.”

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