Survey Results Indicate Need for Greater Ease of Use for Advanced Microscopy

One of the oldest experimental technologies, microscopy has proven to be a vital research tool that has remained in a constant state of flux, able to adapt with changing times and applications. Fluorescence-based microscopy techniques have made great strides in the past decade, and while their customization and resolution abilities provide researchers with invaluable data, these newer advanced microscopy methods tend to be complex systems that can benefit from improved ease-of-use and enhanced customer service for the researchers that utilize them.

BioInformatics Inc.’s 2017 Advanced Microscopy: A Journey from 200 nm to 20 nm Resolution is based on a 40-question online survey completed by 328 users in North America, Europe and Asia between September 8 and September 21, 2017. The report covers market segments for confocal, multiphoton, super-resolution and other advanced microscopy methods, such as structured illumination, light-sheet fluorescence and deconvolution fluorescence microscopy.

To participate in the survey, respondents were required to utilize fluorescence microscopy. Most respondents also used optical microscopy, while 50% and 25% also used electron microscopy and SPM, respectively. The report informs manufacturers and distributors of advanced microscopy instruments about market size and growth prospects, missing features associated with advanced microscopy workflows, the use of fluorophores in advanced fluorescent microscopy and future trends that will be bolstered by advanced microscopy techniques. The report also provides a five-year forecast.

Market Demand

Confocal microscopes are suitable for life science and materials science applications, and make up the vast portion of the advanced microscopy market. Multi-photon microscopes, also ideal for life science applications because they cause less phototoxicity, make up approximately a third of the market. Commercial super-resolution fluorescence microscopy systems have emerged as innovative technologies for the visualization of complex cellular processes, and although they account  for the smallest market share of the advanced microscopy market, they have the highest growth rate due to rapidly growing research demand.

All facets of the advanced microscopy market are growing. Forecast to grow steadily over the next few years, over 25% of demand for advanced microscopy systems is for aftermarket products such as components and consumables. The installed base of super-resolution microscopy systems is also increasing rapidly and accounts for over 50% of demand. Due to the complexity of advanced microscopy systems, service revenue is also on a healthy rise.

Regionally, the vast majority of demand is from North America, followed by Europe and Asian countries. China in particular is poised for accelerated sales growth for advanced microscopy systems due to its research-based market.

Innovative advanced microscopy techniques were largely developed in academic labs and research institutions, therefore the academic sector represents the largest portion of the market, with the government sector the next largest, due to the sectors’ close relationship. While life science industries such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology have significant shares of the advanced microscopy systems end-user market, the electronics and semiconductor industries use confocal microscopes for inspection and R&D applications, thus representing substantial end-market shares as well.

Companies such as Carl Zeiss, Leica Microsystems (Danaher), Nikon and Olympus are the leading players in the microscopy market, with companies focused more specifically on advanced microscopy techniques, such as Andor (Oxford Instruments), Bruker and Yokogawa, also playing significant roles. While traditional microscopy vendors prevail in the confocal microscopy market, broad-based companies are also beginning to enter other segments.


Survey Results

The most commonly used technology, along with confocal microscopy, is wide-field microscopy, which are used by over 50% of survey respondents. More than 75% of respondents use at least one confocal microscopy technology, with just under 20% of those respondents using multi-photon technologies as well. Multi-photon microscopy provides better protection of the sample and can also be useful for analyzing thicker samples, while still creating 3D images similar to confocal microscopy.

Innovative microscopy technologies are usually a combination of advanced microscopy techniques, with companies tailoring instruments to meet the needs of their customers. According to survey results, super-resolution microscopy is usually used in labs that also have confocal or wide-field microscopes, and many users utilize more than one super-resolution technique. Researchers tend to use wide-field fluorescence microscopy systems and traditional structured illumination microscopy frequently, as these techniques are long established.

Fluorescent proteins and organic dyes were reported to be commonly used by respondents in their advanced microscopy workflows. Researchers in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors use a substantial amount of fluorophores such as quantum dots, most likely due to their potential to enhance assay performance. Almost all respondents also indicated using between 2­ and 4 lasers to illuminate samples, with green, red, blue, ultraviolet and cyan being the most commonly used illumination wavelengths.

While advanced microscopy systems offer a great deal of depth and accuracy, the image analysis software used alongside the systems can often be complicated and lack ease of use. Along with cost and speed, a lack of user friendliness within image analysis software was cited as a top five issue by a significant number of respondents.

Pharmaceutical and biotech companies generally tend to have larger budgets for microscopy products than other end-market segments. In terms of budgets, aample preparation reagents and kits, hardware, and service and maintenance were amongst the categories that account for the largest share of microscopy budgets in both academia and pharma/biotech.

Leica Microsystems, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Zeiss had high brand awareness and satisfaction ratings amongst survey respondents. However, microscopy companies’ performances varied among respondents in regards to customer satisfaction for technical support. A significant majority of the respondents indicated that they would prefer better technical support, through features including easier-to-manage software, enhanced customer support systems and improved microscope features. Issues such as a lack of versatility in dyes and imaging depths, limited auto focusing abilities, and a need to improve compatibility with other software and instruments were included as features respondents believe are missing from their current confocal or super-resolution microscopy solutions.

In the future, 3D and 4D imaging and modeling are amongst a list of trends respondents indicated will be enabled by advanced microscopy, as well as higher-resolution imaging and multi-cell imaging.

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