Earlier blog posts in our “RF Energy in Daily Life” series have highlighted the many advantages that Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology enables for solid state cooking and plasma lighting applications, where GaN is widely expected to make a transformative impact across commercial and industrial market segments.
We use this word a lot – “transformative” – when talking about breakthrough semiconductor technologies, and rightly so when one considers the far-ranging implications of these technologies for our daily lives. In this blog post we’ll assess the promise of GaN for medical applications, where GaN-based RF devices will improve physicians’ abilities to save lives and enhance the quality of life for patients around the world. When technology and healthcare innovation intersect, it doesn’t get much more transformative than that.
KEY GaN ADVANTAGES
Today’s RF medical devices are designed to heat biological cells and tissue for medical treatments ranging from RF/microwave ablation to bacteria sterilization, with minimal invasiveness. Compared to legacy semiconductor technologies, GaN offers these key advantages:
Precision control – GaN is capable of offering high efficiency at ISM frequencies below 3 GHz, while also supporting frequencies up to 5.8 GHz and higher. The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength, enhancing the precision and control of the RF energy field. This improves treatment accuracy while simultaneously reducing the risk of damaging adjacent tissues and organs.
High power with better efficiency – GaN delivers raw power density that is considerably higher than LDMOS, with 10% better efficiency. This enables more power to be directed to the treatment site to dehydrate and/or burn away tumors and unwanted tissue, with reduced power consumption and thermal constraints at the system level.
TARGET APPLICATIONS, TODAY AND TOMORROW
RF/microwave ablation techniques are commonly employed today for removing cancerous tumors, and will see continued improvement as GaN enters the RF medical device market. The evolution to higher efficiency opens the door to expanded use in cosmetic surgery and dentistry.
Hyperthermia therapy is quickly emerging as another core target application for RF energy. Typically practiced in combination with other cancer treatments, physicians can use targeted RF energy to elevate the temperature of patients’ body tissue at the cancer site. The controlled heat (104 oF to 108oF) stresses the cancer cells and reduces cancer cell replication without impeding DNA replication among healthy cells. This technique holds great potential as a mainstream cancer treatment in the years ahead.
Looking to the future, we envision that GaN-based RF medical devices will be used for warming blood and organs for transfusions and transplants. In the case of blood transfusions, RF energy can enable stored, chilled blood to be heated quickly and uniformly without creating harmful toxins, allowing rapid transfusions in emergency situations. Similarly, the ability to freeze and rapidly defrost donated organs without causing cellular damage could extends the organs’ shelf life and increase the odds of a successful donor/recipient match over longer timeframes and distances.
The widespread adoption of GaN for RF energy applications in commercial, industrial and medical domains heralds exciting changes that will impact all of us, and may even extend our lives. Be sure to keep abreast of MACOM’s continued innovation in the months ahead as we work with our partners and customers to bring these transformative technologies into the mainstream.