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  • Opportunities abound for LEDs in medical devices

Jan 2010
Caren B. Les,

UPPER LAKE, Calif. – The number of packaged LEDs used in selected test/measurement and medical science devices is expected to reach 1.783 billion in 2013, up from 468.5 million in 2008, with an annual growth rate of 30.7 percent, according to a report from ElectroniCast Consultants. The global market forecast was published by the company in November 2009.

“In 2008, nearly 60 percent of the market share of packaged LEDs was used in sensing/detection and analytical/monitoring applications,” said Stephen Montgomery, president of ElectroniCast – International Business, who is based in Lima, Peru. These segments include LED use in advanced medical devices such as blood sensors and in innovative technology for the detection of greenhouse gases, he added.

Other major application categories addressed in the report include phototherapy, sanitation and cell regeneration; instrumentation light sources and imaging; and other or nonspecific applications.

LEDs in photodynamic therapy

“The use of LEDs in photodynamic therapy devices is the fastest growing segment of the market. We expect it to expand sixfold globally and nearly eightfold in the Americas over the next five years,” Montgomery said. The devices range from handheld consumer products to large floor models used by dentists, dermatologists and cosmetologists.

“Photodynamic therapy devices for teeth whitening, hair restoration, skin wrinkle removal and acne/blemish treatment are finding their way into retail stores. The decrease in the manufacturing costs and, consequently, the retail prices of these devices is a contributing factor to the expected LED segment growth, as is the increasing number of LEDs per device. Growth in this segment will increase to the extent that consumers accept the costs and benefits of the product versus those of visiting dental, health care and cosmetology professionals,” he said.

More nonmedical professionals, including entrepreneurs, will be providing services, using larger instruments (equipment) for teeth whitening, for example, or other devices for hair restoration and cosmetic applications.

When asked about challenges to this segment of the industry, Montgomery noted that there should be some concern that entrepreneurs will indulge in over-promotion of the do-it-yourself at-home products. There will continue to be an issue of providing devices that deliver what they promise, he said.

User safety development is ongoing and is especially important for home-use photodynamic therapy products, he said.

Another developing area is near-infrared LED light therapy, used alone or with hyperbaric oxygen therapy to relieve pain and swelling and to stimulate healing in war-related and other wounds. It also helps repair skin damage associated with cancer treatments. Improvements in LED photomodulation, a cosmetic technique that involves the use of low-level light to treat sun-damaged skin, also are ongoing and considered drivers to the market.

More than 50 primary applications for LEDs were identified in the study, which translates into hundreds of innovative market opportunities, Montgomery said. He gave as examples relative to medical devices the use of LEDs to stimulate scintillators and to diagnose failures of fiber optic dosimeters, of blue or green LEDs to determine amino acid derivatives, of blue-LED-induced fluorescence spectroscopy to detect dental calculus, and of blue LEDs to reduce the bacteria that cause periodontal conditions, and acne and other skin disorders.

Other applications include capillary electrophoresis with native and LED-induced fluorescence detection, medical imaging devices that use nanosize “carbon dots” incorporating LEDs to enhance biological sensors, and lab-on-a-chip devices, such as where a polymer LED is used as an integrated excitation source in a microchip-based device for capillary electrophoresis.

Ongoing advancements in LEDs that are driving the technology’s use in medical devices include improvement in light intensity, product size and weight; long-term reliability, heat/temperature management and the variation of wavelengths; and the use of specific wavelengths in photophysics. Manufacturing techniques that increase the yield and lower the overall cost and pricing of LEDs also are a contributing factor, as are the benefits of migration-enhanced metallorganic chemical vapor deposition techniques.

Research reaps progress

“It is important to note that the vigor of this industry sector can be judged by the relative emphasis on, and status of development of, new support technology,” Montgomery said. Based on the observations of the ElectroniCast staff, much of the relative LED research is at the basic level, mainly in university, government and other noncommercial laboratories. At this point, it appears that the industry segment has years of vigorous activity ahead as research moves into the commercial laboratory and product development phases.

“There continues to be a need for advanced photochemistry/photonics research relating to the use of LEDs. The increased research requires funding. The research will enable innovative product opportunities. Startup and established device manufacturers will need to show investors that they have a competitive advantage and that there is a market demand for the LED-based device,” he concluded.

A device used to detect and measure the quantity of exposure to nuclear or x-ray radiation, and dependent on the fact that such radiation ionizes a gas.
The movement of particles or ions in a solution toward the electrode having the opposite sign because of the application of an electrical field.
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