Moving medical technology forward with PVC

Suppliers of medical-grade PVC seek to replace DEHP without sacrificing performance or safety

As a corollary to an article we published late last year about the development of PVC-free blood bags by Danish materials company Melitek (Alslev), Ole Grøndahl Hansen, Project Manager at the PVCMed Alliance (Copenhagen, Denmark), has contributed an opinion piece.

To recap, in the article about Melitek’s research, we reported that “ PVC-free blood bags, which are produced at Melitek's plant near Copenhagen from soft polyolefin materials, have begun in vitro testing at Karolinska University Hospital with donor blood. There are currently no PVC-free blood bags for red blood cells on the market, and one of the goals of the test . . . is to prove to healthcare providers, industry and the public that it is possible to substitute PVC in one of the [remaining healthcare] applications where PVC containing DEHP phthalates [is] in use.”

Hansen’s perspective follows. 

Glass blood bottles
The way it was.

Imagine being a soldier, wounded in battle in World War II in some cold, distant field. You’re in desperate need of a blood transfusion, but when the medic arrives, he discovers that the container holding the pint of blood has broken. It’s the damn glass again. The blood you need to survive is now contaminated. These fragile glass containers resulted in the deaths of thousands of soldiers and countless civilian deaths throughout history. The discovery of plastics revolutionized blood storage and transport, saving the lives of millions of people around the world.  

When researchers created blood bags with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), it was a major medical breakthrough. Suddenly, doctors and nurses had sterilized blood bags that were more resilient and durable than anything else on the market. PVC bags were light and flexible, too, making storage and transport easy. Once industry learned to mass produce the bags, they became affordable life-saving devices for hospitals on almost any budget.

PVC blood bags with DEHP plasticizer provide a much needed shelf life of 42 days under refrigeration. Blood banks depend on the longevity of these bags, since shortages mean patient deaths, especially for those with rare blood types. These blood bags have also improved cancer patients’ chances of survival by enabling doctors to separate platelets from blood during chemotherapy.

PVC with DEHP plasticizer has helped achieve the most recent medical breakthroughs. But, like all things, PVC blood bags are not perfect. The members of the PVCMed Alliance, a consortium of leading companies from the medical PVC sector, work hard to create the next generation of blood bags that can safely and securely use a different plasticizer than DEHP.

Nevertheless, shifting global medical personnel to the use of DEHP-free PVC can only be an evolutionary, not revolutionary, process. Our industry wants to ensure that any alternative effectively meets the necessary criteria for collection and storage of blood, and performs just as well as PVC with DEHP. For example, the victim of a car accident potentially can require as much as 100 pints of blood. Blood storage equipment and transfusion techniques have to be held to the highest possible standards.

PVCMed members actively collaborate with scientists and government bodies to further develop this next generation of PVC blood bags. In March 2014, a report supported by PVCMed and published by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, identified 10 alternatives to DEHP.

As research progresses, one thing is sure: PVC in healthcare applications is moving forward, not backwards. Our industry will continue to innovate and break new ground to save lives. This is our promise, and our proud legacy.  

Ole Grøndahl Hansen, PVCMed Alliance Project Manager

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