Solid-state IC technologies are quietly disrupting the medical imaging industry

The medical imaging equipment industry is a huge $35B market with a few mega-players and a comfortable +5.5% CAGR. Solid-state IC technologies, which encompass CCD, CIS, a-SI FPD, a-Se FPD, SiPM, and now cMUT and pMUT, are slowly creating disruptive market forces within the industry. The solid-state medical sensor market has reached $350M and is expected to grow at +8.3% from 2016 – 2022, representing $600M by 2022. Yole Développement’s just release a new report “Solid State Medical Imaging” offering keys to understand the current and future mutations at a technology, market and supply chain standpoints. Yole MedTech’s analysts have been recently interviewed on this exciting topic.

Why is the field of medical imaging so fascinating right now?

The ability to see inside and through the body without opening up the patient is already fascinating. Just imagine how revolutionary Rontgen’s innovation was in 1895… The scientist developed an ingenious X-ray approach to explore our bodies and directly observe our bones. The possibility of viewing high-resolution images through a sub-millimeter piece of silicon is all the more fascinating – and it is happening today. Medical imaging development allows doctors and researchers to define new medical examinations thanks to high-performance equipment with less invasive devices: – For example, “simple” camera pills based on the latest CMOS image sensor technologies enable endoscopic diagnoses. – X-ray applications draw from high-performance computing platforms to provide 3D reconstructed images of the patient’s body while decreasing their dose of ionized radiation. The combination of solid state imaging and computing capabilities is currently changing the game in medical imaging: CMOS image sensor technologies are a good example. According to Yole recent analysis Solid State Medical Imaging, the sensors’ market for medical applications should reach US$600 million by 2022.

How important will sensor fusion, or mixed mode imaging systems be in the future?

The added-value of CMOS technologies has been revealed by mixed-mode imaging systems. Indeed, combining nuclear detection and magnetic resonance in PET/MRI  was impossible until now, due to the use of photomultiplier tubes and their high sensibility to magnetic fields. Today, with the development of CMOS technologies, the silicon photomultipliers proposed by SensL and Hamamatsu, for example, are not affected by magnetic fields and allow mixed mode imaging. Furthermore, CMOS technologies permit a higher level of miniaturization for more integrated equipment. What businesses or technologies from other industries would be exciting for the clinical technology sector, and why? Clearly, single photon imaging is the next step forward. Currently developed for interventional purposes, this technology will ultimately replace CCDs CMOS in the near future. Moreover, it should also play a key role in radiology. What can clinical imaging technologists learn from the past decade of change in the print industry? Prior to the development of comprehensive knowledge focused on the medical imaging sector, Yole expanded its expertise to silicon-based printheads for printing applications. As we note in the medical market segment, the printing industry took the path of digital imaging with the help of disruptive CMOS and MEMS technologies. Digital imaging demonstrates numerous benefits. It allows increased resolution, more flexibility in use, including personalization on pictures, printed textiles, etc., and availability for point of need applications. The high demand from the consumer market segment for home printers has led to high-resolution devices at competitive prices. And the industrial sector is reaping the benefits of this price decrease. Significant similarities can be found between the two industries. Endoscopy systems are a good example: CMOS image sensor technologies developed for smart phone applications have given this equipment access to highly miniaturized devices at a relatively low cost in recent years. Moreover, it is now possible to use disposable endoscopes for single-use diagnostics, just like disposing of print cartridges with attached silicon printheads.

Can you compare and contrast the pace of development in optical imaging and X-ray imaging?

Optical imaging and X-ray imaging do not face the same requirements and challenges, especially at detector level. Globally, X-ray detectors are dedicated to low-volume and high-value applications. Optical imaging on the other hand is showing high volume relative to medical imaging applications, with lower value applications. X-ray imaging is mainly driven by lower doses and fast data acquisition for patient safety. The X-ray CMOS device market is mainly a replacement market for a-Si or CCD based cameras. In some X-ray applications, like intra-oral devices, CMOS X-ray detectors are widely adopted. X-rays could represent great market opportunities in terms of value. Teledyne Dalsa/e2v, Tower Jazz and X-Fab are a few examples of companies positioned on CMOS front-end manufacturing. These results are included in Yole’s reports and consulting studies. Optical imaging is mainly driven by miniaturization and increased image performances. Compared to the X-ray industry, CMOS-based devices are not only replacing CCD cameras but are also intended for new application opportunities like camera pills and disposable endoscopes developed by Given Imaging , Olympus or Medigus. The number of endoscopy CMOS sensor manufacturers is constantly increasing. Yole lists for example Tower Jazz and Sony, who are developing 4K CMOS image sensors, as well as Omnivision, ON semiconductor and many others….

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Besides endoscopy and X-ray imaging, does the other modalities will be impacted?

Almost every medical imaging modality is part of this technological transformation. In our previous report we focused on x-ray and endoscopy, two key areas of this paradigm shift. In our new report we have expanded the breath of our analysis to encompass CT, PET, OCT, and US, as they will all either be affected by the move or are just witnessing complete technology turnaround, as is the case for PET. Solid-state IC will become key technology know-how for tomorrow’s medical equipment manufacturers. In a world that is increasingly data-driven, doctors and scientists expect continuous improvements in image quality while also developing new applications where these solid-state imaging capabilities can be used to their full extent. Ultrasounds imaging, intravascular OCT, and PET/MRI hybrids are a few examples of solid-state technology becoming the key enabler.


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