Some Historical Statistics of Academic Publications in the Field of Optical Coherence Tomography
Figure 1 shows an example of the dramatic growth in OCT papers since the first OCT paper by Huang, et al in 1991. Table 1 shows the data in more detail. A few things are very obvious, including that the rate of growth of OCT publications is dramatic (~200 papers/year) and the publications are dominated by ophthalmology, followed by general technology, and cardiology. The legend on the right hand side of the figure shows the number of cumulative publications by subject area from 1991 to 2012. In this analysis only title and abstract were considered. The result is that this data underestimates the number of OCT publications but is a good lower bound. Another limitation is it can be difficult to categorize a publication into a particular subject area and often publications are in multiple subject areas and it is often a blurry call if the paper is about fundamental technology or about an application of the technology. Note also that the PubMed data base has many good attributes but there are also limitations in that it doesn’t cover every journal and the number of journals it covers has increased over time.
It is interesting to consider what is driving these publications and the relative breakdown into each subject area. The answer is a combination of fertile and promising research frontiers, availability of government funding, clinical needs and trials, and very importantly, the availability of commercial regulatory approved OCT products. Certainly the ophthalmic publications would not have grown so dramatically if: 1) OCT was not a promising technology for ophthalmology, 2) NIH National Eye Institute and other government agencies around the word did not provide massive funding, and 3) commercial companies did not produce commercial products early on to provide a catalyst for the entire process. These ophthalmic publications are dominated by researchers using commercial products. A similar point is also true for cardiovascular OCT. Cardiovascular/intravascular publications are currently the third highest publication category. Not only has the availability of commercial OCT products resulted in many more publications because clinicians can use robust approved products in their studies, it also dramatically accelerated bringing important technology to patient care and it brought financial rewards and market share to the companies that took the business risks.
It is interesting to speculate to what extent is this publication history a bellwether for future commercial opportunities and are those commercial opportunities subject to the trends within funding agencies vs matched with the best areas for potential impact. Upon examining the data it seems that funding agencies and subsequent publications of researchers do sometimes go off onto dead-end roads but that those roads usually don’t last a very long in time. In addition the number of startup companies and new products from existing companies seem roughly to follow the number of publications. For example, there are companies in the process of commercializing OCT for new applications such as gastroenterology and dermatology markets, the next two highest ranking items in the figure and chart below.