1896: Early X-ray equipment
The huge potential of X-rays was first recognized by two predecessor companies of Siemens Healthineers – Siemens & Halske, and Reiniger, Gebbert & Schall – which soon began producing commercial X-ray equipment.
In the early stages, an X-ray image took several minutes to capture, during which time the patient had to remain motionless. With such long exposure times, organs like the heart would only show up as a blurred shadow on the final image. The decisive breakthrough came with the invention of the “Blitzapparat” – an X-ray device enabling physicians to capture X-ray images in the space of a few milliseconds, on which even the heart was clearly visible.
1933/34: Pantix and the X-ray sphere
In 1932, Siemens consolidated its medical technology business, forming Siemens-Reiniger-Werke AG (SRW). The new company quickly grew to become the world’s largest specialist supplier of electromedical equipment. This period was marked by two innovations in particular:
In 1933, SRW developed the Pantix rotating anode tube – the precursor of modern X-ray tubes. The Pantix tube could withstand substantially higher loads, making it more effective than conventional X-ray tubes. The innovation was a rotating anode, which significantly reduced the amount of heat generated in the focal spot compared with a fixed anode.
A year later, Siemens brought its X-ray Sphere to market. In this device, both the X-ray tubes and the necessary high-voltage transformer were housed in a spherical casing resistant to radiation and high voltages, which could be connected directly to a power outlet. Furthermore, the Sphere was easy to operate, portable and cost-effective, making it a bestseller into the 1970s, with almost 30,000 units sold worldwide.
Imaging different anatomical structures such as the skeleton, soft tissue, organs or blood vessels makes different demands of X-ray technology. It was not until the 1950s that the technology and examination methods had matured to a point where more specialized equipment could be developed.
For instance, the emergence of new catheter and imaging technologies opened up innovative possibilities for cardiology. In 1950, Siemens unveiled the Angiograph – the first system to allow observation of the catheter on its journey through the blood vessels to the heart on a fluorescent screen.
Other specialized imaging devices were launched in the 1970s. In 1972, the Mammomat became the first mammography unit from Siemens, developed specifically for examinations of the female breast. In 1973, it was followed by the Urograph – a dedicated workstation bringing together all urological X-ray examinations and instrumental procedures in a single device.
Since 1952, Carl Hellmuth Hertz and Inge Edler – a physician and a cardiologist respectively – had been intrigued by the idea of using ultrasound to improve the diagnosis of cardiac disease. As no ultrasound diagnostic devices had yet been developed, they tasked the Siemens engineers with optimizing a materials testing device for medical use. The resulting apparatus, completed in 1953, was successfully used to perform noninvasive real-time recording of cardiac function for the very first time – and echocardiography was born.
Although cardiac function was initially mapped as a simple curve diagram, modern ultrasound systems such as the Acuson SC2000Prime can simultaneously capture the entire heart along with cardiac function and blood flow in real time as three-dimensional images. As a result, even the tiniest blood clot can be made visible.
Ten years later, BSH developers presented yet another innovation, the aquaSensor. It sensed how dirty the water was, and adjusted the addition of detergent and the washing or rinsing program accordingly – an important feature for sustainability, as well.
1958: Gamma camera
Scintigraphy made it possible to view metabolic processes occurring inside the body. The first devices from the 1950s would scan the patient in numerous time-consuming steps. However, an electrical engineer and biophysicist in the U.S., Hal O. Anger, had a vision: To build a device able to image an entire organ “in one piece”. In 1958, he announced his gamma camera, a sophisticated piece of technology that remains at the heart of modern scintigraphy systems to this day. Anger’s invention was brought to market maturity in collaboration with Nuclear-Chicago (later Siemens), and became commercially available under the name “Pho/Gamma 1” from 1962.
The emergence in the 1970s of single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) can also be attributed to Anger’s invention. This technology employs one or sometimes two gamma cameras that revolve around the patient, capturing images from different perspectives. The system then uses the resulting data to depict metabolic processes three-dimensionally or as superposition-free images corresponding to thin slices. Today, Siemens Healthineers combines SPECT with elements of computed tomography in the Symbia-Intevo product family, which allows detailed imaging of processes such as the blood supply to the heart muscle in its anatomical environment.
Another milestone in the history of medical technology was reached in 1967, when the Vidoson 635 became the first ever ultrasound device to allow real-time observation of movements inside the body. Behind the innovation were two Siemens engineers, Heinz Kresse and Richard Soldner.
Initially, the innocuous ultrasound waves were widely adopted in the fields of obstetrics and pediatrics. Use of the Vidoson caused X-ray exams during pregnancy – previously a commonplace procedure – to fall by around 90 percent. Ultrasound was soon taken up by other fields too, for applications such as examination of internal organs or muscles.
Today, ultrasound is the most commonly used diagnostic method. Modern systems such as Acuson Sequoia can deliver high-resolution images from inside the body – regardless of the patient’s body size or weight.
Soon after the discovery of X-rays, many clinicians began dreaming of “slice” images without superposition. However, this breakthrough did not come until the 1970s with the onset of computers, which enabled an entirely novel imaging technique: Computed tomography (CT). In 1975, Siemens launched its first cranial CT scanner, SIRETOM. Just two years later, the company unveiled the first full-body CT system, SOMATOM. The leap from cranial to full-body scanner was the first in a long line of innovations that would continue to expand the horizons of CT imaging.
One such milestone was the invention in 2005 of the world’s first Dual Source CT system, SOMATOM Definition, in which two X-ray tubes and two detectors rotated around the patient. This setup enabled unprecedented scan speeds: An image of the heart could now be captured in less than a heartbeat. As of 2013, the high-end CT system SOMATOM Force from Siemens Healthineers is the fastest scanner on the market, with a scan time of under a second for the entire upper body of an adult patient.
In February 1978, a small team in Erlangen set about developing the Siemens magnetic resonance scanner. The first test run with the prototype took several hours to produce an image. The chosen test subject was a green bell pepper, as its internal structures resembled those of a human heart. This made it a suitable choice to demonstrate the technology’s ability to image even delicate soft tissue structures.
In the summer of 1983, Siemens was finally ready to unveil its first commercial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system, the MAGNETOM. Further developments followed thick and fast. The most important innovations were the first 4-tesla whole-body magnets, superconducting magnets, and ECG triggering, allowing imaging of the beating heart.
Today, the MAGNETOM family offered by Siemens Healthineers is a comprehensive MRI product range, comprising systems with a field strength of 0.35 to 7 tesla for clinical use.
Toward the end of the 20th century, medical practices and hospitals found themselves faced with a new challenge: The rise of digitalization meant that vast amounts of digital image data were being generated on a daily basis. Managing this data was no small task. With this in mind, Siemens developed syngo – an image-processing software suite able to capture, process, and store all patient data created in the course of an examination. Whereas in the past, a separate application was required for each imaging method, syngo catered for all imaging systems in a single package – from X-rays to MRI.
The Cinematic VRT function in the latest syngo.via software version enables a virtual journey through the body, offering a realistic and easily comprehensible depiction of the patient’s anatomy. The 3D visualization technology uses image data to generate photorealistic images from inside the body, revolutionizing medical training and patient communication.
The Biograph brings together two imaging techniques in a single device: Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Computed Tomography (CT). The PET scanner displays metabolic processes, revealing tumors in the body, for instance, while the CT shows the patient’s anatomy. The result is an image in which biological functions are accurately portrayed in their anatomical environment. This is especially beneficial in the field of oncology, facilitating the diagnosis and treatment of cancers.
For a long time, combining magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with PET was thought to be physically impossible. However, this was disproved by Siemens in 2010 with the Biograph mMR, a hybrid system that brought together MRI and PET. This innovation is especially effective in cancer diagnosis and examinations of the nervous system and heart.