Academic takes aim at plastics use in medtech

28 December 2018

medical devices

Dr Simon Werrett, a science historian and professor at University College London has researched the use of plastic in the medical industry and how it may be reduced.

His book, Thrifty Science, looks at how people approached materials in the 17th and 18th centuries, while research undertaken from Dr Werrett suggests 85% of items in the medical industry are disposable.

He told the Evening Standard: “Almost all of the stuff is used once and then thrown away.

“My message argument in the book is that we should try to reduce harmful plastics but we could learn a lesson from the past about how to approach materials.”

His findings also suggested that the introduction of single-use plastics in the industry in the 1950s and 60s brought about questions of sustainability.

He added: “They already recognised there would be a problem but they thought eventually they’d come up with a solution. They haven’t yet.”

Dr Werrett’s findings were presented during a session at the Wellcome Trust with plans for further research into the subject area.

He agreed that concerns of sanitation are valid and claimed there are circumstances where thoroughly cleaning and reusing certain medical devices is “not necessarily worse” than using single-use products, and would like to work with the medical industry in the future to come up with solutions.

Many medical tools that are used are made from plastics including examination gloves, sterile syringes, and IV tubes for the sake of guarding people from the possibility of contamination.

Its use in medical technology has also proved essential in developing life-saving technology, pain prevention and the development of prosthetic body parts and organs, as well as day-to-day hospital use such as with oxygen masks and incubators.

These include plastic hearts which can extend the lives of patients waiting for a transplant following heart failure. Plastic foam can be used to stabilise trauma patients following serious internal injuries, including self-expanding foam plastic that is injected into the abdomen to help stop internal haemorrhaging, slowing blood loss to aid the chances of survival.

There are also bacteria-resistant plastics such as non-stick polymer coatings which inhibit bacteria formation – with these plastics able to be used to catheters or equipment to fight off preventable disease, while self-healing plastics are being used to develop artificial skin and muscle.

Published by on December 19, 2018

Image from Shutterstock


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