Edwin L. Aguirre
Plastic medical devices, like those being developed by researchers at UMass Lowell, are helping save people's lives.
“Plastics are important for medical devices, particularly those used for minimally invasive procedures, because of their versatility, flexibility, low cost and ability to incorporate many features into one unit,” says Plastics Engineering Prof. Stephen McCarthy, co-director of the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) at UMass Lowell.
For example, more than 1.3 million angioplasties were performed on patients in the United States in 2006, according to the American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics.
An angioplasty is a coronary procedure wherein a thin plastic tube, or catheter, is guided into a heart artery narrowed or clogged with cholesterol deposits. A very thin wire is then threaded across the blockage and a tiny balloon is inflated to open up the artery and restore blood flow to the affected heart muscle.
“Many procedures such as Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty, which replaces open-heart surgery, are not possible without plastics,” he says.
On April 20, the Plastics Engineering Department, in collaboration with the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Medical Plastics Division and the Eastern New England SPE Section, organized the Plastics for Medical Devices Conference at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center.
Nearly 100 faculty, student researchers and company representatives attended the meeting, which featured 12 guest speakers who discussed the latest developments in the area of medical plastics, including trends, application testing, catheter design, product development, the applications of copolyesters, polycarbonates and high-performance polymers, supplier relations, Food and Drug Administration compliance and intellectual property.
“This one-day conference was designed to educate researchers and engineers on the leading-edge technologies regarding plastics for medical devices, such that Massachusetts can remain a leader in this field,” says McCarthy. “It is also a great opportunity for UMass Lowell students and faculty to learn about the growing opportunities in medical devices.”
He says one future trend will be the incorporation of therapeutics and wireless communications within one device.
“This will allow remote patient monitoring and diagnosis, followed by the delivery of the specified dosage of therapeutic drugs without the need for a physician’s visit,” he says.