GE Healthcare releases MRI tech designed to better spot hip implant problems

GE Healthcare ($GE) is unveiling a new magnetic resonance imaging technique that--perhaps unintentionally--addresses an unfortunate market need created by health concerns over all-metal hip implants. In short, it helps detect implant-related problems before they become too serious.

Specifically, GE says its MAVRIC SL was able to successfully detect joint lining inflammation in patients with all-metal hip implants before they developed specific symptoms. The company bills the product as reducing image distortion typically caused by metal implants, giving physicians a better shot at examining tissue around an implant without resorting so much to biopsies or exploratory surgery. GE, Hospital for Special Surgery and Stanford University developed the tech.

Safety and health problems created by all metal hips have become widespread. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) is facing thousands of lawsuits over its now-recalled ASR hips. Stryker expects to spend $390 million-plus to settle lawsuits related to its own metal hip problems, and other metal hip implant makers are facing similar challenges. The whole sector is under increased regulatory scrutiny as a result.

In short, metal hips are causing legions of medical and legal problems. But GE promotes its new imaging technique more obliquely. Rather, it points out that its technology fills a need created in part by the acceleration of new surgeries to replace failed artificial joints. As far as reasons why, the company notes that the number of failed artificial joints is rising, and that more and more younger patients are increasingly pursuing joint replacement surgeries.

Still, with metal joint failures continuing to mushroom, imaging technology that can catch the problem sooner can help, whether problems are driven by allergies or malfunctioning implants. And if patients can be treated sooner, the damage can be lessened, and the tool gives providers a way to at least manage the fallout.

- read the release
- here's Milwaukee's Business Journal's take

Special Report: After tough times, hip implant revenue projected to grow again