When we think “medical device,” we might automatically think of the beeping equipment in a hospital room. But, in today’s world, medical devices are much more— perhaps even closer to science fiction than traditional science. 

The medical device market is anticipated to reach $432.6 billion by 2025, according to a recent report published by Lucintel.  

In part, this growth is driven by the increasing sophistication of technology. Medical devices are becoming smaller and smarter than ever, performing increasingly complex and constantly improving functions. 

[What else is happening in healthcare? Here’s Magnifi’s take.]

Moreover, escalating healthcare costs, a rise in chronic diseases, and a growing aging population are compelling health care providers to seek out new, more efficient care models. From 3D printing human tissues to monitoring patients according to their specific clinical needs after they leave the hospital, innovative medical devices are meeting that need. 

New medical devices are offering a myriad of useful answers to complex health challenges, changing the reality of care in new and exciting ways. 

What are Medical Devices?

According to the World Health Organization, ‘medical device’ means any instrument, apparatus, implement, machine, appliance, implant, reagent for in vitro use, software, material or other similar or related article, intended by the manufacturer to be used, alone or in combination, for human beings, for one or more of the specific medical purpose(s) of:

  • diagnosis, prevention, monitoring, treatment or alleviation of disease,
  • diagnosis, monitoring, treatment, alleviation of or compensation for an injury,
  • investigation, replacement, modification, or support of the anatomy or of a physiological process,
  • supporting or sustaining life,
  • control of conception,
  • disinfection of medical devices
  • providing information by means of in vitro examination of specimens derived from the human body;

and does not achieve its primary intended action by pharmacological, immunological or metabolic means, in or on the human body, but which may be assisted in its intended function by such means.

So, health monitors, check. Brain sensors, check. 3D printed prosthetics (and ears!), check again. 

Why Invest in Medical Devices?

The landscape of medical devices is growing rapidly, with technology making the impossible possible. 

Wearables

The rise in wearables isn’t limited to FitBits. And when it comes to medical devices, wearables do much more than measure your steps. For one, wearables can offer real-time patient data to health care providers. And, when they connect with Artificial Intelligence-based programs, they not only collect information, but also analyze it against big data. 

Up-to-minute information about vitals limits the need for in-person appointments and can lead to better patient outcomes. For example, Current Health’s Remote Patient Monitoring Platform is AI powered and customizable according to a patient’s risk level. 

Some emerging wearables can also perform health interventions. In early 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),approved the first wearable, portable peritoneal dialysis. Developed by Singapore-based AWAK Technologies, the device has the potential to change the lives of dialysis patients around the world. 

Perhaps even more exciting, researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a wrist-worn prototype that screens the wearer’s blood over the course of a few hours, analyzing it for circulating tumor cells (CTCs).

Wearables can be used for everything from pre-surgical planning to gene sequencing and medical imaging, making their health and investment opportunities plentiful. 

Brain Sensors 

These days, brain sensors come in many shapes and sizes. Some are placed in the brain itself, measuring temperature and pressure before dissolving. This information can be crucial for patients with traumatic brain injuries, for example. Their dissolvable nature not only negates the need for surgery to remove them, but also limits the risk of infection and complications associated with long-term implants. 

Alternatively, the company Advanced Brain Monitoring offers products designed to track function as it relates to chronic diseases and early stage neurodegeneration.  

Still others are more consumer oriented, like the company Muse, which sells headsets that act as a brain fitness tool, measuring and tracking brain activity.

Artificial Organs 

Certainly many things — like the heart — can’t be replicated. Right? Actually, that’s not entirely true anymore.

iSynCardia Systems recently received FDA approval for its most recent iteration of a total artificial heart, the 50cc temporary Total Artificial Heart System (50cc TAH-t).The company’s artificial heart, first approved in 2004, is meant to be a bridge until a biological donor becomes available. Artificial organs, whether printed or made otherwise, offer a lot of promise, providing millions waiting on donor organs an alternative. 

3D Printing 

According to the FDA, “3D printing is a process that creates a three-dimensional object by building successive layers of raw material.” 

Not only does 3D printing allow for the creation of more patient-specific devices, it allows for more specific variation in medical tools. Rather than buying large quantities of a tool, providers can print them on demand. Similarly, customized prosthetics and orthopedic implants are more possible than ever, improving the likelihood of patient success.

Bioprinting

Now, for the real science fiction stuff. 

Bioprinting uses carefully designed bio inks made of biomaterials and cells to 3D print living obstacles, such as tissue or organ. Pioneered a decade ago, bioprinting in its early days was developed to improve wound reconstruction related to burns, one of the most common types of traumas worldwide. Since then, scientists have gone as far as to develop a prototype of a handheld bioprinter designed specifically to help skin regenerate in areas affected by large wounds.  

Beyond skin, scientists have succeeded in bioprinting an artificial pancreas, a synthetic ear, a meniscus made in space, and even bone tissue. Researchers are even working on bio-printed ovaries for women suffering from infertility. 

How to Invest in Medical Devices

As an emerging industry, particularly one in the feast or famine sector of biotech, investing in medical devices directly can be risky. Although medical devices on the whole have been around for decades, the innovative new solutions at the forefront of the industry remain largely untested. This can make investing in individual medical device companies a risky proposition.

However, a search on Magnifi indicates that there are a number of ETFs and mutual funds available to give investors broad exposure to this industry without concentrating their bets on any one company. 

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