Medical Polymers Pave the Way for More Efficient Medical Device Tech
Sunday, February 2, 2020
Hrishikesh Kadam, content writer for Global Market Insights, explains how medical polymers are transforming the healthcare industry.
In the current scenario, chronic medical ailments like cardiovascular issues, infections, generic medical conditions, and other disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent. This in turn is necessitating the development of advanced pharmaceutical devices and sophisticated medical treatments.
One of the most commonly utilized materials for medical applications is polymers. Natural polymers like hair, horn and cellulose have been used for many years by humans for a multitude of purposes including medical, for instance – suture materials.
The modern, man-made or synthetic medical polymers used today, began to develop somewhere around the Second World War period, and have demonstrated a robust potential in the pharmaceutical industry. This potential is attributed to their many beneficial chemical and physical properties including permeability, flexibility and mechanical self-reinforcement, among others.
The global medical polymers market is witnessing strong growth in current years and it is expected that these materials will replace the conventional ceramic, glass and metal-based equipment and implants in the years ahead.
Proliferating cases of cerebral aneurysms
The Brain Aneurysm Foundation has estimated that nearly 6.5 million people in the United States have cerebral aneurysms that are unruptured. It is expected that around 30,000 individuals will face an aneurysm rupture each year, with nearly 15% patients succumbing before they receive medical care, 25% deaths occurring despite medical attention and only one in four expected to make a full recovery.
In light of these alarming statistics, a team at the Department of Mechanical Engineering in North Arizona University is working on developing a new polymer designed to restrict the growth and rupture of aneurysms. The polypropylene glycol-based biomaterial, dubbed PPODA-QT is very similar to body tissue, and is built to restrict the growth of aneurysms in the brain, in turn enhancing patient outcomes in stroke and potential stroke patients.
Burgeoning use of polymers like PEEK
Polyether-ether-ketone (PEEK) polymers are also gaining widespread acceptance in recent times owing to their resilience against a majority of lipids, solvents, blood or enzymes in the body.
Additionally, these polymers are highly heat resistant and inert, which makes them ideal for medical devices that come into direct contact with blood and tissue. These include implants like bone screws, pins, plates suture screws and tissue anchors.
While PEEK polymers have been around for over two decades, it is only in the past ten years that these polymers have been adopted for long-term, in-body medical applications.
For instance, PEEK has been widely implemented as a vital material in a hip stem component, replacing the traditional metal. This acceptance is due to the fact that ketone polymers are a close match to the native bone’s flexibility, particularly in comparison with steel or titanium components.
This flexibility is paramount, since the bone where the hip stem is placed is prone to flexing. In the case of a metal component, this flexing tends to result in a loosening of the stem over time, whereas PEEK stems remain unaffected.
Technological advancements in medical polymer industry
Since synthetic polymers are used extensively in creating sophisticated materials with robust properties, they are essential for the emergence of new medical technologies. Therefore, an automated method of medical polymer production is an ideal way to develop advanced medical polymers that are designed to enhance human health. Robotics is one of the best ways to automate and increase polymer production.
Polymer synthesis is a complex process, owing to the fact that chemical reactions are highly oxygen-sensitive and generally require its removal during production.
However, researchers at the biomedical engineering department of the Rutgers University School of Engineering have developed a new open-air robotics platform, which allows oxygen-tolerant polymer synthesis reactions to take place. The team has developed a custom software that enables a liquid-handling robot to understand computer-based polymer designs and implements each step of the chemical reaction process. This new robotics-based system is built to create over 384 different polymers at the same time, which represents a significant increase over conventional production methods.
Emergence of bioresorbable polymers
The medical polymers industry is witnessing a considerable advancement with the introduction of biologically compatible polymers, known as bioresorbable polymers.
Bioresorbable polymers are a grade of synthetic polymers that can facilitate a speedy healing process by moulding to the target area, thereby restoring functionality temporarily. This gives the area time to heal, following which the materials resorb into the body, leaving no trace and therefore mitigating the need for additional follow-up surgeries.
Several prominent industry players are now working towards the development of sophisticated bioresorbable polymer materials to gain a stronghold in the medical polymers industry.
For instance, Japan-based Toray Industries has recently developed a new skin-like, bioresorbable polymer material. This material can be stretched out to over ten times its actual length, and snaps back into its original shape easily. In addition to this, the polymer is designed to degrade rapidly, owing to an advanced hydrolysis technology developed by the company. These characteristics make the polymer ideal for use in regenerative and other medical applications, as well as in industrial uses.
Medical polymers are transforming the healthcare industry. The emergence of new polymer technologies in medical applications has revolutionized the industry, with polymer-based medical devices quickly replacing their metal, glass and ceramic counterparts in many cases, paving the way for more efficient and biologically compatible medical device technologies in the years ahead.