Over 90 percent of all medical imaging examinations worldwide now rely on X-rays. But the technology is still based on the fundamental principle that was used 120 years ago, electrons that are generated in a cathode and accelerated to high energies collide with a fixed anode which is usually made of the heavy metal tungsten and this collision of accelerated electrons with anode produces X-rays. The X-rays, in turn, are absorbed to a greater degree by bone than by soft tissue. The bones, therefore, appear dark in an X-ray image, and the soft tissues appear light.
Despite the success of this technique in medical engineering, it does have a few drawbacks. For example, the electrons that collide with the anode produce mainly heat. No more than one percent of the energy is converted to X-rays which is a huge waste of energy. There are also many applications, such as tumor diagnostics, in which physicians need to be able to distinguish among various soft tissues more easily. But if the contrast is increased, the patient is exposed to a higher dose of X-ray radiation which should be avoided, because high radiation doses can damage body tissue. In X-ray examinations involving cardiovascular diseases, on the other hand, contrast agents are often needed in order for the angiography systems to be able to make blood vessels visible in X-ray light, but nearly one out of ten patients suffers allergic reactions to these substances, which can lead to shock and kidney failure. A technique that uses smaller quantities of contrast agent, or even none at all, would, therefore, be beneficial to millions of people.
Researchers have been working on overcoming these limitations of conventional X-Ray technology and are developing novel cathodes for X-Ray production which are built using latest carbon nanoparticles and can operate a room temperature, unlike the conventional X-Ray cathode which heats up to 2000 degree Celsius. The anode is also being replaced with liquid metal jet alloy. These changes are expected to produce X-Ray devices with low power consumption and at least 20 times higher image resolution that conventional X-Ray systems. These X-Ray devices can also produce high contrast images even without using contrast agents.
All the major medical imaging companies are trying to develop these systems and are hence carrying out the lot of R&D. This huge amount of R&D is resulting in the filing of a large number of patents in this area and ultimately the patents are going to decide which company is going to be the first to market in this space and which company will dominate the market in long run.
The overall growth strategy seems to focus on increasing research combined with developing new and innovative products and obtaining exclusive rights to use their product in an effective manner which is possible only in the form of patents. With new entrants into the sector and increased demand for related products from the public, bionic prosthetics segment is expected to grow considerably during the next 5 years and stand on the top being the leaders holding their success in the form of patents.
Currently, several companies are developing these next generation X-Ray systems and some of the notable players include; Siemens Healthcare, GE Healthcare, Philips Healthcare, Toshiba medical systems along with several other companies.
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