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Ophthalmic laser market growing

BioPhotonics
Sep 2012

As the population of the world ages, associated eye problems will mean significant growth for the ophthalmic laser market.

The number of people 60 and older has tripled in the past 50 years. As of 2000, there were 606 million people over the age of 60 worldwide, according to a United Nations report, and that global population is projected to reach nearly 2 billion in 2050.

In the US alone, the 90-and-older population nearly tripled over the past three decades, reaching 1.9 million in 2010, according to a November 2011 report by the US Census Bureau and supported by the National Institute on Aging. Over the next four decades, this population is projected to more than quadruple.

The aging population is subject to unique eye conditions, such as cataracts, which are a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. More than 15 million cataract surgeries are performed worldwide each year to surgically replace the damaged lens with an intraocular lens. Besides the aging population, other factors driving the global ophthalmic laser market, which is expected to reach $804 million by 2015, are increasing accessibility to advanced laser eye treatment; the increasing proportion of people needing vision correction, especially in Asia; and an increase in patients opting for eye surgery, said Global Industry Analysts (GIA) Inc. in an ophthalmic lasers report released in January.

Although demand for certain major ophthalmic laser treatments declined during the economic recession as people postponed elective surgeries, technological developments continued, GIA said, providing the stimulus needed to drive future growth.

“Certain new technological developments in laser surgery are believed to offer benefits beyond vision correction and attract significant demand in the future,” GIA said. “Application of laser technology in early diagnosis, and the detection of certain eye disorders in conjunction with imaging technologies, such as OCT, is another factor that would boost growth of the laser eye correction market in the future.”

On Aug. 6, New York-based eye health company Bausch + Lomb and ophthalmic laser maker Technolas Perfect Vision of Munich announced that their Victus femtosecond laser designed for cataract and corneal surgery had received clearance from the FDA.

Femtosecond lasers, with their ultrashort pulses, do not transfer heat or shock to the material being cut and can make surgical incisions with extreme precision. The technology was introduced commercially in 2002 for creating thin, hinged flaps during lasik surgery.

Companies that make femtosecond lasers commercially for ophthalmic applications include Calmar Laser, Advanced Medical Optics and Carl Zeiss Meditec.

Carl Zeiss Meditec announced in April that it will begin a US clinical trial of its ReLEx smile procedure for correcting myopia, or nearsightedness, after receiving FDA approval.

In lasik procedures, the excimer laser vaporizes tissue, but the ReLEx smile method generates a refractive lenticule in the intact cornea with a femtosecond laser. The surgeon then removes the lenticule through a small incision – less than 4 mm – without having to move the patient to an excimer laser, the company said.

“The introduction of femtosecond laser technology is the most significant advancement in cataract surgery in recent history,” said Dr. Steven J. Dell of Dell Laser Consultants in Austin, Texas, in the press release announcing the Victus’ approval.

The Victus is the first femtosecond laser that can support both surgical procedures on a single platform, the companies say, and it is designed to provide greater precision compared with manual cataract surgery techniques. The laser received CE mark approval in Europe in November 2011 and has been used in more than 2000 cataract or refractive procedures worldwide, the companies say. They are working to gain approval in the US for additional applications.

In June, Iridex Corp. announced the first use of its MicroPulse laser therapy (MPLT) through an intraocular fiber optic endoprobe during ophthalmic surgery.

“Expanding MPLT applications from physicians’ offices into the operating room and surgery centers will continue to drive growth in our laser systems,” said Iridex President and CEO Dominik Beck.

MicroPulse works by electronically “chopping” a continuous-wave laser emission into trains of microsecond pulses, enhancing the physician’s ability to more precisely control the laser effects on target tissues. It is more effective for very thin retinas, allowing more tissue to be preserved than in conventional continuous-wave laser photocoagulation, the company said.

Iridex is working to accelerate adoption of MicroPulse for treating diabetic macular edema (DME), Beck said in an early August statement announcing the company’s second-quarter financial results.

“Our experiences in DME have led us to explore opportunities for MicroPulse in the treatment of glaucoma,” he said, adding that the company is working with “key opinion leaders” in glaucoma on how its product can improve the current standard of care for treating the disease.

The new glaucoma therapy, a tissue-sparing, repeatable technique called MicroPulse Laser Trabeculoplasty, was introduced by Iridex at the recent American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery meeting.

“If the results of these initiatives indicate an equivalent or better outcome than currently available options, we could see a significant impact to our revenues, as this is a large market opportunity,” Beck said.

The company’s revenue from ophthalmology was $8.4 million for the quarter, up from slightly over the prior quarter and the prior year. Dental laser maker Biolase also is seeing opportunity in the ophthalmic market.

“We continue to seek the most efficient route to market for our laser technology as it relates to ophthalmology and other surgical specialties,” said Federico Pignatelli, chairman and CEO, during an earnings call on Aug. 8. “We are currently in early discussions with a leading ophthalmic company to develop a relationship to jointly deliver our first product to that marketplace.”


GLOSSARY
cornea
The transparent front layer of the eye. Light entering the eye is refracted (converged) by the outer surface of the cornea.
femtosecond laser
A type of ultrafast laser that creates a minimal amount of heat-affected zones by having a pulse duration below the picosecond level, making the technology ideal for micromachining, medical device fabrication, scientific research, eye surgery and bioimaging.
lens
A transparent optical component consisting of one or more pieces of optical glass with surfaces so curved (usually spherical) that they serve to converge or diverge the transmitted rays from an object, thus forming a real or virtual image of that object.
ophthalmology
The branch of medicine involved in the study of the anatomy, functions, diseases and treatments of the eye.
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