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New Markets for Small and Smart Medical Products,


 New Markets for Small and Smart Medical Products 

Miniaturised devices that employ micro- and nanotechnologies will play a major role in future medical treatment and technology. In addition to 35 already commercialised nanomedical products,1 there are new market opportunities on the horizon including self-medication with small and smart devices. These and their drivers as well as current hurdles are examined here.

U. Kleinkes
IVAM, Dortmund, Germany

Finding the right technology

Technological development speeds up the miniaturisation of functional parts for medical devices. But how can companies distinguish the relevant micro- and nanotechnology from useless “nano trash”? A German television company and Neosino AG ( are currently in a legal battle. Neosino AG offers a dietary supplement with nano-minerals, which, it says, supports the immune system and keeps adults healthy. The German football club, Bayern Munich, is Neosino’s official partner and helps to promote those nanoproducts. The German television company reported that there are no nanominerals in the capsules offered by Neosino and that these “products” are equivalent to dust from the football pitch. Consequently, after the television report the stocks of the public company Neosino tumbled. For a nonexpert it is difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong. Sources of help with distinguishing between promising products and nanotrash are discussed later in this article.

Facts on a growing market

Although “nano” is the current buzz-word in science, it has reached the world of medical devices and there are new real applications and markets on the horizon, as recent studies confirm. There are 200 companies worldwide providing 35 nanomedical products from bandages with anti-microbial silver nanoparticles to pregnancy self-tests with colloidal gold.1 In this study, the worldwide market is estimated at US$6 billion. More than 150 pharmaceutical and medical products employing nanotechnology are emerging. The analysis shows that

• 54% of those companies with nanomedical activities are developing drug delivery systems
• 24% of those companies are developing diagnostics such as nanoparticles for molecular imaging
• 19% are working with orthopaedic products.

Figure 1: (click to enlarge) EDM electrode. Minimum diameter is 6 µm.

IVAM, a European association and network group for micro- and nanotechnology companies, conducted an economic survey of these companies in January 2006. The findings showed that 50% of the German micro- and nanotechnology companies that responded are active in the medical market.2 Figure 1 shows the most important markets for German suppliers of micro- and nanosystems.

Figure 2: (click to enlarge) Application areas for micro- and nanotechnologies.

The recently published NEXUS market analysis for microelectro-mechanical systems and microsystems forecasts a rise in the market from US$12 billion in 2004 to US$25 billion worldwide by 2009.3 The share of the market for medical and life sciences was just 5% in 2004 and it is expected to be 6% in 2009; however, the leverage effect of a micropart or a microcomponent such as a microsensor can be tremendous, as exemplified in the automotive industry. The safety features of a modern car rely on microsensors, for example, the acceleration sensor in the airbag or the electronic stability system’s yaw-rate sensor. Without microsystems,
the safety features of a modern car cannot function. Furthermore, tyre-pressure monitoring systems are to become obligatory for cars in the United States. For all industries including medical, miniaturised systems derived from micro- or nanotechnologies allow the integration of many functions into a small design space using small amounts of energy. Figure 2 shows potential application areas for micro- or nanotechnology.

Finding the way

Holger Reinecke, Head of the German institute HSG-IMIT and Professor at the microsystems-related research institute IMTEK (Freiburg, Germany), explains that there are still hurdles for the application of microsystems in medical technology. “For the integration of microtechnical innovations into medical systems some barriers have to be overcome. Apart from the general question about the cost–benefit relationship, difficulties arise from the lack of knowledge on the part of developers and producers of microsystems. They often do not have the expertise that is necessary for the production of components or compliance with certain requirements for the approval of medical products.” He continues, “A lack of industry-specific know-how in design and production of suitable sensors often combines with missing branch-specific communication with potential partners. The possibilities and the use of microsystems for medical technology are only partially known on the part of their manufacturers. Because of the first experiences in the 1990s, which are no longer valid, the opportunities of microsystems are wrongly classified as slight.”

Organisations such as IVAM make their suppliers and technologies known and transparent to users. More than 170 companies and institutes dealing with microsensors, advanced materials, microfluidic devices as well as complex microsystems and nanostructured surfaces are involved in this network.4 For application in the important medical device technology market, a new business platform is required. IVAM can assist with this by organising contact with experts who can distinguish promising products and applications.

Drivers and new markets

Table I : (click to enlarge) Time to market for microdevices.

Recent developments such as microfluidic devices for drug dosing systems are ready for commercial production. The time to market for microdevices can take decades as shown in Table I; of course, this is not unusual for medical devices. A success story is the nebuliser Respimat (Boehringer Ingelheim microparts, for the treatment of respiratory diseases (Figure 3), but it took nearly 10 years from the first prototypes being created until it was placed on the market. Equipped with micronozzles, the device produces droplets with a diameter of 5 µm. These droplets have an appropriate size for entering the lung.

Figure 3: The nebuliser is a success story with the use of microparts.

Two effects will boost the patients’ self-medication: the rising costs of the health system in an ageing society and the advances of the so-called lab-on-a-chip. The future could bring a low-cost “medical doctor in a matchbox” and those disposables could be available on the Internet. Another development that will be a challenge for traditional medical care is the trend for wellness and self-wellness monitoring; this will significantly widen the borderline between a medical device and an electronic gadget. Is a lab-on-a-chip device that measures cholesterol level a wellness and life-style product that can be purchased off-the-shelf at the local supermarket, or should it only be available from a doctor? At this point, it is important that medical device manufacturers and suppliers of microsystems find a forum where they can talk to each other, because there are critical issues to discuss such as liability and market communication.

From the point of view of microsystems manufacturers, a new market is emerging. The NEXUS report predicts an increase of market share for consumer electronics and life-style products from 6% in 2004 to 22% in 2009. For example, with micro- and nanotechnology the cell phone will be a valuable source of new applications. More memory capacity with advanced nanoelectronic storage systems and advanced camera systems are on their way. This new fast-growing
market for consumer electronics can move towards medical applications with integrated devices in the cell phone or the iPod. Or to put it another way, medical device manufacturers can make their devices more attractive for young users if they integrate an MP3-player or a mobile mini screen for videos into a testing device for the blood–sugar level.

Talking together

The platform for further discussion between users and suppliers of micro- and nanodevices for medical technology will be ComPaMED 2006, which takes place alongside MEDICA on 15–17 November 2006 in Düsseldorf, Germany. Suppliers of advanced materials, microsystems and nano-medical devices together with manufacturers of new devices will exhibit and discuss the future of medical components at the forum “High-tech for Medical Devices” (for information visit





1. “Nanomedizin” published by the economic ministry of the German federal state of Hessen and HA Hessen Agentur GmbH,
2. IVAM economic survey 2006,
3. NEXUS Market Analysis for MEMS and Microsystems III, 2005–2009, NEXUS Association, Grenoble, Switzerland, 2005,

Uwe Kleinkes is a Member of the Managing Board of IVAM, the international network of microtechnology companies, and Managing Director of IVAM GmbH, Emil-Figge Strasse 76, D- 44227 Dortmund, Germany, tel. +49 231 9742 168, e-mail:


  Source: Uwe Kleinkes, Originally Published MDT May 2006, DESIGN, New Markets for Small and Smart Medical Products,

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