Modern healthcare would be impossible without many plastics medical products that we take for granted: disposable syringes, intravenous blood bags and heart valves, etc.
Plastics packaging is particularly suitable for medical applications, thanks to their exceptional barrier properties, light weight, low cost, durability, transparency and compatibility with other materials.
Thanks to the contribution plastics have made to advancements in the medical world, people are living healthier, longer and more fulfilling lives than at any time in human history. Thanks to the endless versatility of modern plastics, medical breakthroughs considered unthinkable 50 years ago are now regarded as commonplace.
Plastics in medicine is still a relatively new field; it was only around the middle of last century that doctors began to use plastics in humans. As time progressed, the potential of plastics began to be realised and tailor-made polymers are now being widely used in medical technology. Plastics are now being used as orthopaedic devices, where they align, support (the abdominal wall for example), correct deformities (heel joint for example), or improve the function of movable parts of the body (when used in a hip joint). Plastics prosthesis can replace a body part, taking over its main function.
Plastics pill capsules release exactly the right dosage of its active ingredients at the right time. The tartaric acid-based polymer gradually breaks down, slowly releasing the active ingredients over a longer period of time. These tailor-made pharmaceuticals help to avoid having to frequently take large quantities of pills.
In the latest heart surgery, a thin tube (catheter) is fed into a constricted blood vessel. A small balloon, inflated via a second catheter, presses the deposits against the vessel wall. The passageway is thus unblocked but the deposits remain. A tiny spiral-shaped implant - a vessel support - is positioned in the treated artery. It is made of a plastic specially developed for the medical field, charged with active substances. The vessel support releases its substances which gradually break down the deposits. Eventually the support itself dissolves.
Synthetic material also plays a vital role for diseased arteries that cannot be helped via vessel support. A diseased section of the aorta is removed and the gap is bridged by a flexible plastic prosthesis. The body's lifeline is fully functional again.
Eye injuries or chronic inflammations, for example corneal erosion, can impair sight, and if a transplant has little chance of success, a prosthesis is the only hope. Artificial corneas are now available made from special silicone. This new artificial cornea, only 0.3 to 0.5 millimetres thick, highly transparent, flexible and with bio-mechanics similar to a natural cornea, can restore clear vision again.
People with severely impaired hearing can now have a plastics implant that brings sound back again. This implant consists of numerous components - a microphone, a transmission device connected to a micro-computer worn on the body, a stimulator and an electrode carrier with 16 electrodes for 16 different frequency ranges. As it transforms acoustic impulses into electrical ones, it bypasses the damaged cells and stimulates the auditory nerve directly.
Plastics in medical & health