The future of medical materials and medtech innovation

Futurism in medtech

Len Czuba, President of Czuba Enterprises Inc. (Chicago), will moderate a panel discussion on the future of medical materials at the forthcoming co-located PLASTEC and Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) Minneapolis event. His company works with medical device OEMs, among others, to bring products from concept to production, with a special emphasis on material selection and processing. PlasticsToday asked him about the impact that materials, and specifically plastics, have on advances in medical technology. He shares his thoughts below.

The panel discussion is scheduled for Oct. 31 at 2 PM at MedTech Central (booth 1347). Participants include Donna Bibber, Vice President, Isometric Micro Molding; Jeremy Harris, PhD, Director, Research, Secant Group; and Jacqueline Anim, Principal Materials Engineer, SME Polymers and Plastics, Ethicon & OneMD, (J&J). PLASTEC/MD&M Minneapolis comes to the Minneapolis Convention Center on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

PlasticsToday: One of the themes of your panel discussion involves advances in materials and technologies that are driving medical innovation. Can you give a couple of recent examples that illustrate this?

Len Czuba
Len Czuba

Len Czuba: I would guess that every person working on new medical devices or therapies is hoping to find the best material that can do the job at the lowest cost. It is no surprise that some of the highest cost materials offer performance advantages that lower cost materials can’t achieve. Take, for example, polyether ether ketone, or PEEK. This unique material can be sterilized by any of the most commonly used methods of sterilization and is virtually inert when exposed to solvents and any natural fluids found in the human body. These properties make it an ideal material for long-term implant devices, whether they are orthopedic hardware, such as bone pins, plates and screws, or components of a joint-replacement device. For this reason, the variety of specialty products made with the ketone polymers have grown dramatically while the range of polymers offered for these applications has also grown.

Another material that offers new properties are the resorbable polymers used for non-permanent implant devices as well as drug-delivery products, sensors and even dissolvable electronics. As the availability of materials grows in variety and properties, more new products are designed only because of the unique properties these materials bring to the product. 

I have also worked with companies that are designing products around the interesting family of materials referred to as polyether, block-amides, or PEBA, to take advantage of their high moisture permeability. Other medical devices or products use high-barrier materials, such as fluoropolymers, to provide just the opposite performance—high-moisture barrier for some liquid-containing products that require storage without permeation weight loss. 

As the industry continues to grow in parallel with the explosion in sensors, telecommunication devices, patient health monitoring and health maintenance devices, the need for good, reliable materials grows with this evolving market.

PlasticsToday: What are some common mistakes that medical device OEMs make in terms of material selection? In one of your articles, you noted that product function dictates material selection. Can you expand on that?

Czuba: I believe that one of the biggest mistakes made in material selection is to settle for “legacy” materials that are already in the company’s products or that product engineers are accustomed to using. Rather than find the best material for the application, it is easier to make do with what is available and that everyone is already familiar. I know this is a generalization, but device engineers and designers don’t always invest the time and energy to find the latest, best and most well-suited material for their new products.

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