Medical Plastic Data Service Magazine



Our 30th Year of Publication
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Cover Story

Medical Polymers : Emerging Trends & Opportunities


Like any other sector, the Plastic industry or the medical device industry is also looking for emerging trends. The origin for some of the trends are from campaign based ideology - the examples for which in the medical applications are requirements for bisphenol-A free materials, Polyvinylchloride free devices etc.


History has shown that such public-driven trends generally follow the cycle of becoming public and disappearing regularly without major changes.


However, it is said that most future trends in the medical device sector are generated within research groups, industry R & D activities and during the applications.


All very good looking ideas may be an actual trends. Some of the ideas which have, are tested after thorough investigation, shown potential for implementation and are driven by higher integration level of technologies between technocrats, medical professionals and patients. A few of such material based trends are highlighted in this article.


These trends are mainly driven by general aspects of higher integration level of technologies, but also between engineers, medical professionals, and patients.


Thermoplastic Elastomers


Many medical devices need combination of hard and soft materials such as respiratory masks, precision syringes, tubings, catheters, bags for infusion solutions, implants such as artificial heart valves and joints etc requiring a long time use. The reason such materials will be preferred is because of their high degree  of purity (low level of extractable compounds), their recyclability and cost effectiveness. Also for their application to replace latex which is understood to cause allergic reactions in some patients. In addition, they are easy to sterilize and are flexible.


Technological advancement in the thermoplastic elastomer processing industry has made these elastomers an ideal choice for medical device manufacturing, leading to an increase in demand for thermoplastic medical elastomers in medical devices. As per “Markets & Markets”, Medical Elastomers Market was valued at USD 5.11 Billion in 2016 and is projected to reach USD 7.92 Billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 7.5%.


Most future trends are generated within Research Groups, Industry R & D Activities, during the applications and integration between the Engineers, Medical Professionals and Patients.



Biodegradable Polymers


Within the world of medical devices, biodegradable polymers usually refer to a plastic that will be dismantled inside the human body by means of metabolism within a period between several days and years. Put simply, an implant manufactured from these materials will completely disappear without further action.


A well-established medical application is absorbent surgical suture materials that were introduced in the early 1960s. Currently there are five major groups of biodegradable plastic materials commercially available. However, by combining these by means of copolymerization or compounding, an enormous variety of materials may be obtained.


• Polyglycolic Acid (PGA)
• Polylactic Acid (PLA)
• Polycaprolactone (PCL)
• Polyanhydrides
• Polylactic-Co-Glycolic Acid (PLGA)


An implant basing on one of these biodegradable polymers subsequently will be replaced by body’s own material, making implant removal after healing superfluous. Widespread applications are screws, plates, and fixing pins for osteosynthesis. This comes along with several advantages. The implant does bear the entire load direct after implantation. The patient regains mobility immediately and the body gets time to start bone healing.


According to an estimate, Biogradable Bone Graft Polymers market size was over USD 350 million in 2016 (including Joint Reconstruction, Cramiomaxillio facial, Dental, Spine, Orthobiologics & others) and is expected to grow at a CAGR over 7.5 % till 2024.


Biodegradable Polymers for Targeted Drug Delivery


Over the past decades, biodegradable polymers have proven to be a very meaningful approach for targeted drug delivery. These types of polymers will disintegrate and eventually vanish when implanted into the human body, whereas the time and process of disintegration may be actively influenced by engineering. For instance, many medical devices are used as implants, serving as drug delivery system, intended to continuously administering a drug without any need for repeating intake of medicines. This offers diverse benefits. Drug may be delivered continuously right at the desired location within the human body, bypassing the digestive system and the liver. Further, convenience of the patient is increased as he is released from remembering when and how to intake drugs or any additional surgical intervention to remove the implant. Prominent example is small subcutaneous rodshaped implants, a few millimeters in diameter and 5-10 mm in length, applied as a contraceptive.


Shape-Memory Polymers


Another interesting group of plastics are shape-memory polymers (SMPs). Just like the better-known shape-memory alloys, these will “remember” their original shape when deformed, and flip back to the initial shape when exposed to an external stimulus. These stimuli may be an electric field, light, changes in pH value, or, as most commonly, changes in temperature. Some SMPs even can retain three shapes, their initial (permanent) shape and two deformed morphologies. This effect offers several interesting options.


A commonly known application is bracelets that alter the position of teeth over a period of several months, or coronary stents that strut the artery and prevent an elastic recoil. The alteration in shape also may be used for clamping. Feasible are form - and/or force fitting fastenings. Applications for that are devices such as surgical staplers, remotely controlled switchable implants, or clamps to fix artificial heart valve.


More over, while shape-memory alloys already find widespread applications in medical devices, such as dental wires, cardiovascular stents, or orthopaedic implants, the utilization of SMPs still is in its very beginnings.


SMPs have potential applications as intravenous cannula, self-adjusting orthodontic wires and selectively pliable tools for small scale surgical procedures where currently metal-based shape memory alloys such as Nitinol are widely used. Another application of SMP in the medical field could be its use in implants, e.g. minimally invasive (trough small incisions or natural orifices) implantation of a device in its small temporary shape which after activating the shape memory by e.g. temperature increase assumes its permanent (and mostly bulkier) shape.


The integration of SMPs in fabric provides many fascinating and improved properties such as good aesthetic appeal, comfort, textile soft display, smart controlled drug release, fantasy design, wound monitoring, smart wetting properties and protection against extreme variations in environmental conditions.

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