Canon is contributing to better medical care by developing new diagnostic technology and utilizing healthcare IT.
With the global population continuing to grow and age, the number of people aged 65 and over is expected to double to more than 1.4 billion by 2050. In Japan, which has one of the most aged populations within the developed world, around 40% of the population is predicted to be over the age of 65 by 2050. Demand is increasing for a broad range of healthcare services to deliver advanced testing, diagnosis and treatment, including promotion of better health and disease prevention. As aging accelerates in Japan, the challenge will be to try to shorten the gap between average and healthy life expectancy that is presently estimated at 5-10 years. Prevention and early detection of disease are the keys to living healthily into old age and can help curtail healthcare cost inflation in an aged society, an issue that must be tackled to realize a more sustainable society.
Diagnostic accuracy is also a prerequisite for supplying high-quality medical services. To this end, there is a great need to make effective use of vast volumes of medical data and cumulative information on patients. Simplifying the challenges faced by health professionals will become a major issue in realizing a sustainable society.
Canon's founder and first president, Takeshi Mitarai, who was also a doctor, was strongly committed to “contributing to society through medicine.” In 1940, not long after the company was established, Canon developed the first radiographic camera made in Japan to help detect pulmonary tuberculosis. Ever since, Canon has contributed to the early detection and treatment of disease by supplying ophthalmological instruments and diagnostic equipment using digital radiography and other technologies. In Phase V of the Excellent Global Corporation Plan, Canon is reinforcing medical operations as one of its new core businesses. The Canon Group expanded in December 2016 to include Canon Medical, a leading manufacturer of diagnostic imaging systems. Canon Medical has been developing medical systems operations for around a century, building up technical expertise in diagnostic equipment such as CT, MRI and ultrasound systems that reduce the burden on patients while providing highly detailed images for diagnostic purposes. Our aim is to supply solutions for patients and health professionals by combining artificial intelligence (AI) with our proprietary image-processing technologies to support better medical diagnoses and improve patient outcomes. In 2018, in a move to further strengthen and expand Canon's healthcare business, Canon Medical entered the cancer genomic testing sector by making ACTMed Co., Ltd. a subsidiary.
Canon's U.S.-based Healthcare Optics Research Laboratory in Boston conducts research targeting technical advances in medical robotics, cardiovascular imaging and other fields. The lab works in partnership with both Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital, which are affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
Going forward, partnering with leading medical institutions in Japan and abroad, we plan to focus resources on further development of diagnostic imaging systems centered on Canon Medical. We will also focus on the fields of healthcare IT – supplying advanced diagnostic support systems and network solutions, based on the latest IT – and in vitro diagnostic systems for the rapid and precise analysis of blood and other patient samples.
Canon believes that the expansion of its medical business can contribute to the realization of SDG 3, “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” By further widening open innovation programs with advanced medical institutions in Japan and other countries, we hope to contribute to solutions in the healthcare field while also creating value for Canon.
Canon Medical's CT scanners are recognized for their advanced diagnostic capabilities, high analytical efficiency, patient friendliness, and lower lifetime operating costs. Launched in 2007 as the world's first CT scanner to reproduce organs or blood flow using sequenced images, the 320-slice dynamic volume CT scanner Aquilion ONE has made diagnostic procedures more patient-friendly due to less radiation exposure from quicker imaging and reduced usage of contrast agents. This has contributed substantially to the utility of CT scanners with geriatric and pediatric patients, and in intensive care situations as well. In 2017, we introduced the Aquilion Precision, an ultra-high-resolution CT scanner that enables clear visualization of microstructures in the body.
In MRI scanners, responding to patient feedback about noise and compartment tightness, we have developed proprietary “Pianissimo” noise-reduction technology and redesigned the scanner so patients do not feel so enclosed. In other sectors, we are contributing to the early detection of disease with patient-oriented diagnostic equipment, including high-resolution ultrasound systems and a mammography system developed by an all-female team to minimize patient discomfort during the machine's operation.
The challenge with X-ray diagnostic scanners is to expose patients to as little radiation as possible while ensuring sufficiently high image resolution to allow accurate diagnosis. Canon Medical has developed a new technology called AiCE for CT image reconstruction. Employing a type of AI technology called deep learning to reduce noise in CT images, AiCE makes possible high-quality images while exposing patients to a lower dose of radiation.
Applying its know-how in sensitive detection technology, Canon Medical supplies in vitro diagnostic systems that detect the tiny quantities of virus present in the early stages of infection. Detecting viruses such as influenza accurately at an early stage is extremely useful to medical practitioners. The rapid detection system only requires the patient to sneeze into a paper tissue, making it ideal for testing even small children. Faster detection will make it possible to treat infections earlier, reducing the incidence of serious cases and limiting the spread of disease.
Canon Medical's wide range of in vitro diagnostic systems for testing blood and other samples provide a range of clinical tests. With tropical viruses such as Ebola and Zika posing a growing global threat, we are also developing new DNA testing kits to help early detection of infections. In 2018, we began selling the first RNA reagents in Japan for Zika virus detection. Looking ahead, we will continue to work to make diagnostic tests less invasive for patients and more efficient by developing quicker tests requiring smaller samples.