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Medical Plastics

The use of plastics in medical applications is expected to continue its steady growth as new polymers edge out metals, ceramics, and other traditional materials. Innovative materials are replacing the conventional ones such as PVC. Medical devices are becoming smaller and lighter but have performance advantages over much larger and more expensive equipment.

The following facts indicate the recent trends in the field of Plastics used for medical applications.

Medical devices are becoming lighter, more portable and more user-friendly, with more functionality.

  • A steady stream of new and innovative medical devices has been made possible by advanced polymer research. A study from Kalorama Information titled "Advanced Polymers for Medical Applications"says that applications with the most potential for growth include tissue engineering and transplant medicine, devices that deliver pharmaceuticals, and specialized polymer coatings that allow for more complex, device design.

  • Advanced medical polymers are now capable of biological processes and can become a functional part of living organisms.

  • Frost & Sullivan expects overall growth in the medical device market, predicting that the U.S. medical market will grow 7.7% this year, to $59.8 billion, and climb to $ 70.3 billion in 2005.

  • A report titled Plastics for Medical Devices from Business Communications Co. (BCC) predicts styrenics, engineering resins, and thermosets will grow by 6% to 6.5% annually in the U.S. through 2004.

  • BCC forecasts a "Slight shift" from commodity thermoplastics to engineering resins, styrencis, thermosets, and TPEs, noting that the fastest growing market will be for TPEs. Major nondisposable markets include testing / diagnostic equipment, surgical instrument and related equipment, prostheses / implants, and dental / ophthalmics. Disposable products include syringes, labware, tubing, blood bags, utensils, gloves, trays, and catheters. The report lists the following primary issues affecting the growth of medical plastics.

* Changing sterilization technologies;

* Effects of AIDS and other infectious diseases;

* Changing FDA regulations;

* The trend toward "defensive medicine" resulting from increased liability lawsuits;

* Aging U.S. population;

* new technologies such as diagnostic imaging, laser surgery;

* polymers with improved biocompatible properties;

* the continued drive toward industry cost containment; and

* recent emphasis on PVC alternatives.

  • The U.S. market for disposable medical supplies, now at $48.6 billion, is expected to grow 6% annually through 2005, according to research from the Freedonia Group in its report.

  • Disposable Medical Supplies to 2005.

Gains will be led by prefilled inhalers and prefilled syringes; transdermal patches; and hematology, nucleic, and immunochemistry diagnostics It notes that home health care will be the fastest-growing market as consumers broaden self-treatment and preventive medicine activities.

  • The FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) issued a draft "Guidance for Industry" document advising manufacturers to label medical device made with DEHP. The document also recommended that medical-device manufacturers consider replacing PVC containing DEHP with alternative materials.

(Abstracted from an article by Mr. Richard Stewart as published in "PlASTICS ENGINEERING", April 2003 )

Important developments in medical materials by leading manufacturers........

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