Plastics and Modern Medicine
Plastic injection molding continues to provide solutions for the medical industry to improve health care. From PVC joint fittings that are made into wheelchairs for developing countries, to injection-molded positioning helmets for precision brain surgery, plastic plays a critical part in modern health care.
Plastic’s unique properties provides multiple benefits such as antimicrobial properties which can kill or repel bacteria, medical cost savings (and Lord knows we could use some help here!); plastics are inexpensive to produce compared to metal, glass and ceramics. Finally, plastic is more comfortable for applications that interface with the body and less be allergenic.
Plastic allows amazing improvements to health care in ways that are simple. Malaria kills almost a third of a million people a year, mostly young children. Mosquitoes spread malaria, so sturdy plastic nets that are treated with insecticides repel or kill disease-carrying mosquitos in climates where mosquitos flourish. Newer insecticidal nets can remain potent for five years. “The polyester nets bind the insecticide to the net’s surface while polyethylene nets can incorporate the insecticide into the material itself.” A simple solution to a huge problem made possible by plastics.
Thousands of inexpensive wheelchairs are made using PVC and delivered around the world. Microdyne associate Ray Anderson has made trips to Jamaica taking the material for the structure of the chair and wheels that have been adapted to the design. He and others build the chairs in Jamaica. The chairs cost just $81 each. Hundreds of thousands of people without wheelchairs are completely immobile or require carrying. The need is estimated at 131 million people; most have no access to cheap wheelchairs. Ray says that most who receive a chair on each trip have been completely immobile until they receive their new wheelchair.
Of course, highly technical and sophisticated solutions to medical problems exist and are solved by the plastic injection process too. Micro injection molding techniques for very small, precise molding allows plastic stents to be made for blocked vessels. Thin catheters are used to unblock vessels. Deposits obstructing them can be broken down by spiral shaped implants — a vessel support, and dissolved over time into the body for specific treatments.” Microdyne has been involved in micro plastic molding since the 1970s.
A wide variety of tools and instruments are perfect for plastic injection. Laparoscopic procedures — minimally invasive surgery (MIS) is a technique that uses very small incisions to perform operations. The technique allows small tube-like cameras, scissors, dissectors and needles to be guided to the point of the operations for the procedure. Plastic hand-held tools assist the surgeon guiding the instruments by watching a monitor image at the end of the tube. The strength, durability and light weight make plastic a perfect material to provide comfortable use by the physician.
New systems for the heart’s electromagnetic properties are under development using plastic applicators with the strength and flexibility to increase regulation of the heartbeat.
Plastic’s versatility allows certain attributes to be built into the plastic. Many knee replacements have plastic parts that are designed to provide smooth movement and durability for tens of thousands of steps. Metal is often combined with plastic to provide lifelike movement. The plastic is ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene.
Sterile bottles, jars, and bags have transformed the medicine of M*A*S*H in the 1950s. The old glass bottles required laborious sterilization after each use. Today inexpensive sterile bottles, trays, tubes, and syringes are thrown away, preventing transmission of diseases to other patients and medical personnel. This makes the hospital more sanitary, and allows more home care using sterile equipment. Plastic has changed neonatal care. Preemie babies are encased in plastic incubators, and tiny plastic tubes feed veins with lifesaving fluids and antibiotics. Plastic-encased respiration machines deliver air through a small tube threaded down little throats.
Blood transfusions use sterile bags with safe blood, feed into sterile one-use tubes to keep it pure as it enters into the patient’s body. Dropping plastic bags and bottles don’t break like the old bottles used to keeping dangerous blood such as HIV from caretakers.
Microdyne helped one client develop a plastic screw on trajectory to guide brain operations. The variable adjustments allow any trajectory angle for precise and less dangerous brain procedures.
Plastic has the ability to increase quality and accuracy of medical procedures. Its incredible flexibility also contributes to lowering the costs of health care for more mundane care in the home and hospital to mitigate germs through disposable blood bags, gloves, containers, and needles. Plastic and health care have a bright future together as both quality and economy are achieved through the modern miracle of plastic.