Medical plastic has transformed several aspects of the healthcare industry, making tools and equipment easier to sterilize and safer for both patients and doctors. But plastic has much greater potential than simply being used for bedpans and scalpels. Find out the amazing ways that researchers are using medical grade plastics to heal and even replace human organs.
Even with all the incredible advancements in prosthetics and artificial organs occurring in the medical industry today, it can still be jarring to think of plastic as a viable option for organ replacement. But medical grade polycarbonate sheet and medical grade polypropylene, as well as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), are ideal for these procedures since they can handle multiple sterilizations and extended contact with bodily fluids. Not to mention that several kinds of plastic are hypoallergenic!
Another major factor in the popularity of medical plastic for health care innovations is 3D printing technology. 3D printing became a practical means for creating prosthetics and organs when it was discovered that living cells could survive being "printed" through the nozzles of inkjet printers in the early 2000s. Today, advanced 3D printing technology is used to bind plastic polymers with these living cells in order to create functional, living tissue that can retain its shape. While not every advancement related to medical grade plastics involves 3D printers, the technology helps in many applications.
So, what can be created with the help of medical plastic?
Temporary Artificial Hearts
While the technology is not yet viable as a lifelong solution, artificial hearts made of special medical plastic are helping extend patients' lives as they wait for heart transplants. This plastic was designed for long-term durability and has a high fatigue resistance to help ensure a patient's health and safety until an organic heart is available. This technology is particularly important for patients whose bodies have rejected organic hearts in the past, or simply experienced heart failure because the plastic's composition is biocompatible. Therefore, a patient's body will not reject the organ and sustain further damage before they receive an organic heart.
Skin Grafts And Skin For Prosthetics
When combined with skin stem cells, plastic can be used as skin grafts to heal burns and ulcers. Additionally, researchers are studying "self-healing" polymers that can repair themselves after being cut. They simply need to heat or hold the cut edges together for them to join back together and even retain its mechanical properties.
Another innovation being studied are polymers that use electrical conductivity to mimic the sensitivity that organic skin experiences. This form of medical plastic could be used to create prosthetics with touch sensitivity, which would help prosthetic users regain their sense of touch. However, these advancements are still in their infancy. There's still a long way to go before a true skin replacement that can flex, stretch, heal and feel is available.
Dummy Organs For Practice Procedures
One 3D printing application already in use is creating organ replicas for surgeons to practice on before they actually begin the procedure on a patient. MRI and CT scans are fed into a 3D printer and, with the help of a designer, a nearly identical organ is printed. These organs are generally made of medical grade plastics or glass. The surgeons can then hold the "organ" in their hands and view it up close to plan the best possible approach to the surgery, and even practice their chosen procedure. They can then perform complex operations with far lower risk to the patient.
Learn More About Medical Plastic At A&C Plastics
The future of medical grade plastics is bright and you can count on A&C Plastics to keep our eyes on it. You can learn more about the plastics used in medical devices and innovations in our Information Center. Have a question about our products and services? Contact us today.