By Mary Vanac

The recently announced Philips Healthcare Global Advanced Imaging Innovation Center could bolster Northeast Ohio’s reputation as a hub for innovation in medical imaging technology.

But it also could do a lot for the research and clinical radiology practices at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, where the center will be housed.

The $38.4 million partnership of Philips, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) ’ supported by a $5 million Ohio Third Frontier grant ’ was announced a few weeks ago.

Philips (NYSE:PHG) — a Dutch company and a global imaging technology leader that employs more than 1,100 people at its worldwide computed tomography and nuclear medicine headquarters in the Cleveland suburb of Highland Heights — would test-drive its latest imaging technologies at the innovation center.

UH Case Medical Center would provide patients from its neurology, cardiology, pathology and oncology departments, as well as doctors and researchers, to kick the tires of the Philips technologies. Case Western Reserve engineers also would help evaluate the technologies.

Dr. Pablo Ros, radiology professor and chairman at the CWRU Radiology Department, and co-director of the Case Center for Imaging Research, will lead the new center. Ros is an academic heavy-hitter who arrived at the Cleveland university a year ago from Harvard University’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. There, he was executive vice chairman of radiology. He also was chief of the radiology division at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

MedCity News talked with Ros about the promise the new center holds for UH Case Medical Center professionals and patients.

MedCity News: What opportunities does the imaging innovation center offer professionals at UH Case Medical Center?

Pablo Ros: It will allow us to partner with engineers of Philips to translate our ideas into reality.

It’s something I have seen in a couple of other locations where there is a major industry player in the same vicinity as a major medical center. At Case, we also have a major engineering school and biomedical engineering department. And the University Hospitals system offers opportunities to deploy imaging equipment to help patients in facilities ranging from a large medical center to a small community hospital or out-patient health center.

But we don’t have the engineers. So if I have an idea for how to improve an imaging device, we have to contact the manufacturer and engage in long, complicated discussions. The center offers us a place to meet, a place to collaborate, to get things done quickly. It also offers prototype and pre-release technologies that we will work to improve.

MedCity News: What does the center mean to your medical students and residents, as well as patients?

PR: Having access to equipment and prototypes that would take years to reach mainstream medical facilities will be good for our students and residents. A component of the center is an international program for imaging education. So we are planning to have physicians from all over the world come and learn here. For our patients, it means we might be first in the world with a new technique or a new technology that would not otherwise be available.

MedCity News: Philips is investing $33.4 million in the first phase of the center where it will give researchers and clinicians the opportunity to use and evaluate its latest technologies. What does Philips get out of the deal?

PR: Imaging technology companies have no patients and no doctors to evaluate its products. Philips also likes the idea of working with a large American university and health system as a partner in innovation. The company had suitors from other countries for the innovation center — Israel, the Netherlands and China — and they selected us.

MedCity News: What are some of the lines of research you would like to see advanced at the center?

PR: We are grateful to have CT scanning, which uses x-rays, but we also realize the potential risks of ionic radiation. There is a tremendous movement in which we will participate to do more with less radiation. Some prototype technologies can reduce the amount of radiation exposure from standard equipment up to 90 percent — and with similar image quality.

MedCity News: Do you see future imaging innovations that don’t use radiation?

PR: Many. We will use more optical imaging, something called optical coherence tomography, and images produced from bioluminescence, borrowing pigments from fireflies and jellyfish.

MedCity News: What are the areas of medicine at UH Case Medical Center that might benefit from most from the imaging innovation center?

PR: Oncologic sciences would be a clear beneficiary. Also, imaging for cardiovascular diseases. And neurosciences. These are the three major beneficiaries. But there are also benefits for orthopedic to gastrointestinal diseases and others.

With an aging population, there are more and more degenerative diseases in which joints or organs or muscles lose function. The easiest way to monitor treatment is to look inside with images.

Another area that is growing is image-guided minimally invasive therapies. Instead of having to open the patient, you use an imaging probe and needles through the skin.