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Small scale, big impact

November 8th, 2017 / By: / Feature

ELUTE® Fiber by TissueGen can be loaded with standard pharmaceuticals and is suitable for woven, knit or braided applications in implantable medical textile devices. Photo: TissueGen.
Breakthroughs in biomedical textiles will offer high-tech solutions in tomorrow’s medical markets.

As the impact of technology gets bigger, some advanced textiles are getting smaller, particularly in the medical market, where biomedical or implantable textiles are having growing success. Because of the versatility of highly engineered textile substrates, medical markets are benefitting from impressive developments in medical textile technologies.

The Medical Track at the Advanced Textiles Conference at IFAI’s Expo 2017 was a good place to learn about some of these breakthrough technologies. In a presentation titled “Pharmaceuticals and Biologics Delivery from Biodegradable Fiber,” Kevin Nelson, Ph.D., founder and chief scientific officer of TissueGen Inc., explained the advantages of medical fiber in drug delivery, including the ability to program a slower release, to create a localized and non-systemic drug delivery, and to allow for a retrievable treatment.

The physical formats of the fibers used vary depending on the material and the device. Nelson described how circular, ribbon, hollow, gel-filled, multi-lumen and “over-the-wire” formats offer options for different purposes, such as in coils, stents, sutures and other medical textiles. “

“There are a broad range of agents that can be loaded,” he said.

Nelson also talked about progress in tissue engineering applications, which overlaps his company’s work in drug delivery. He shared data from recent testing that shows success in generating nerve growth in lab rats. Nerves in humans naturally grow extremely slowly. These results could indicate groundbreaking medical technologies for human use the future. The company is currently working on spinal cord regeneration.

Fitzroy Brown, technical sales manager, implantable textiles, Bard Peripheral Vascular OEM Products, spoke on “The Evolution of Medical Textiles for Vascular Surgical Applications.” The company supplies component material to the medical device industry. Although traditional uses for textiles in medicine—wipes, swabs, gauzes, bandages, wound dressing and compression garments—remain significant in the medical market, implantable fabrics have had success in the market for a range of uses, including heart valves, repair of abdominal aorta artery (AAA), for sutures, in hernia repair and in orthopedic surgery. A variety of textile structures are used in implantable applications, including felts, knitted, woven and braided, with each one offering advantages for specific needs.

In selecting implantable textile materials, the developer must consider the material’s impact on tissue fluids, acceptance by the tissue, ability to withstand mechanical strain, fabrication capability and how it will be sterilized. It must also be chemically inert and non-carcinogenic.

A medical textile’s path to market ultimately will require multiple steps for proper design selection, biocompatibility, safety, efficacy and regulatory compliance.

Workshops in the Advanced Textiles area of the show floor offered additional opportunities to learn about recent developments and have conversations with industry experts. Diana Wagner, senior functional apparel designer, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University, led a discussion on bio-medical e-textiles that dealt with some of the practical challenges in designing truly functional and wearable medical devices.

Each medical issue comes with its own set of challenges to address. For example, devices that deploy and inflate could be used for impact protection, needed by patients at risk of falling, but how do you create passive devices like this? “It’s a hard problem to solve,” Wagner said.

A more “active” wearable could be in the form of an “e-skin” that sits right on the body, or an “exosuit” that is more akin to a typical garment. “But the body is squishy,” she said, which makes it more difficult to design the functionality.

Another challenge is the way that devices are controlled. She has worked on developing the “Grip Glove,” a soft, textile-based wearable robot that can help patients with poor grip and hold function and strength. Using inflated pressure, it has been shown to be effective in assisting with motion and function for adults with limited use of one or both hands.

Although the discussion among the participants showed that progress has been made, but more research and development is needed. “The answers are out there; we just don’t know them yet,” she said


Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source.