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The unstoppable rise of medical wearables, the use of 3D printing to accelerate product development and improve gender equality in sex-ed classes and ongoing advances in ‘smart’ polymers were among the topics that resonated most with PlasticsToday readers in 2016.

Norbert Sparrow

December 14, 2016

7 Min Read
The top 10 medtech stories of the year

It has been quite a year, hasn’t it? An unexpected new world order has emerged, with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency as the keystones, and 2017 has the potential to be an even wilder geopolitical ride.

We will dive deeper into that in a forthcoming article identifying medtech trends to watch in the coming year and how larger societal issues will shape them. For now, though, let’s take a step back and revisit the most-read PlasticsToday articles of 2016 related to medical technology. 

Part of what a full-body smart suit might look like, per design bureau Worrell.

This year’s models in wearable medical devices 

By all accounts, the market for medical wearable devices is forecast to surge over the coming years, but opinions vary dramatically by how much. Depending on the analyst, the size of the market will range from $7.8 billion to $41 billion by 2020. In this article published in April, we do the numbers and explain why manufacturers of fitness trackers and related wearable devices, who used to shy away from developing products that would fall under FDA oversight, are changing course. Read more

Is that a plastic clitoris on the teacher's desk?

In September, French schoolchildren became much more knowledgable about the structure and function of the clitoris, thanks to 3D printing. The full-scale clitoris printed out of polylactic acid (PLA) was initially created for a video, produced with the support of the national Ministry of Education, to assist educators in achieving gender equality in the classroom. The goal is to show the anatomical and physiological foundations of sexual pleasure as it pertains to women, and not just men. But why stop with the teachers? The plastic clitoris is currently being used in sex education classes in French primary and secondary schools. Read more

Smart polymers are healing patients and the planet

"Smart" is an overused adjective these days, but Helen Lentzakis, PhD, made a strong case for smart polymers during a conversation with PlasticsToday. An application specialist at Group NanoXplore Inc. (Saint Laurent, QC), the largest Canadian producer of graphene, Lentzakis notably talked about recently developed vitrimers. The self-healing polymers can switch from a solid to a pliable state simply by a temperature change, and have the capability to heal patients and, to some extent, the planet. Smart? No, it's brilliant! Read more

Accelerating turnaround time on development parts with 3D-printed tooling

Challenged by a customer to reduce R&D costs, Polymer Conversions, a custom injection molder and moldmaker in Buffalo, NY, decided to give 3D printing a test drive. The experiment was a success. “This capability gives us the ability to give our customers their dream scenario, because we can 3D print the core and cavity inserts within hours, and within 48 to 72 hours, we can be in the press molding parts from that tool,” explained Chief Operating Officer Ben Harp. “The lead time to put functional parts in their hands in the actual materials—where they are comfortable with them to do functional testing—has gone from 10 to 15 weeks to 72 hours. That’s a dramatic compression for the development time line,” said Harp. Read more

Lawsuit alleges Boston Scientific used counterfeit Chinese resin to make vaginal meshes

A class action lawsuit filed by Houston-based Mostyn Law in January accused the multinational medical device manufacturer of engaging in an international conspiracy to sell defective vaginal surgical mesh made of counterfeit supplies smuggled out of China. Boston Scientific bought "unverified substandard material from a known counterfeiter in China" to produce the mesh when Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. stopped selling its polyproplene resin, branded as Marlex, for surgical mesh in 2005,” states the lawsuit. “The company took extraordinary measures to avoid being caught by U.S. and Chinese authorities, at times acting like a drug dealer to hide multiple overseas shipments," it added. Read more

Breakthrough in materials science brings flexible, wearable electronic devices one step closer

In July, we reported on the development of a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) material that is flexible enough to be bent into the shape of a tube, for example, without compromising the embedded electronics. Described as a breakthrough in flexible electronics, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) claimed that the “smart" plastic achieves unprecedented performance in regards to data storage and processing capabilities. The material could enable significant advances in the design of lightweight, flexible wearable healthcare devices, among numerous other applications. Read more

A 3D-printed brace makes a play in Super Bowl 50

The Carolina Panthers did not win Super Bowl 50, but the team was able to claim a milestone, nonetheless: Linebacker Thomas Davis was the first player to wear a 3D-printed device in a Super Bowl game.

You may recall that Davis broke a bone in his forearm during the NFC Championship, which kept him out of the rest of the game, but he was determined to play in the Super Bowl. Davis reached out to Whiteclouds, a 3D-printing lab headquartered in Ogden, UT, that works with the likes of NASA, Marvel and Walmart, for a solution. Whiteclouds scanned his arm and designed a 3D-printed shock-absorbing brace using its XRD technology, a blend of plastic and rubber-like materials. The conformable Poron microcellular product instantly dissipates force upon impact, absorbing as much as 90% of energy at high-speed impact, according to Whiteclouds. Incidentally, a tackle typically has the force of approximately 1,600 pounds. Read more

The biggest challenge in medical device design is to ‘tame the technology’

“On average, we routinely use 20%—at the very most—of the features available on our smartphones,” says Bryce Rutter, PhD, founder and CEO of Metaphase Design Group (St. Louis, MO). But that doesn’t stop engineers from cramming more functionality than most of us will ever use into our beloved mobile devices.

Feature creep breeds user confusion and frustration, which doesn’t do the brand any favors, but no one is harmed as a result. The same can’t be said of medical devices, where the last thing you want is a confused, frustrated surgeon trying to wrangle a surgical tool. And yet, says Rutter, “I’m amazed by how many fascinating products with exceptional technology get to market where the human factors are so poorly articulated and resolved that the user—be it a surgeon, nurse, anesthesiologist or whomever—has great difficulty accessing the full potency of the technology. Healthcare’s biggest challenge is to tame the technology,” stresses Rutter. Read more

Segway inventor’s revolutionary prosthetic arm set for commercial launch

Medical device startup Mobius Bionics (Manchester, NH) announced in July the commercial introduction of the LUKE prosthetic arm for late 2016, the first such device cleared by FDA in the new product category for integrated prosthetic arms. The year is coming to a close, and we have not heard any more about the launch, but the technology remains a game changer, providing unmatched levels of flexibility, strength and dexterity to people with forearm through shoulder amputations.

Developed by DEKA Research & Development Corp., under the leadership of Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway and the first drug infusion pump, the prosthetic arm allows users to reach behind their backs, hold a glass of water without spilling it and pick up something as fragile as an egg. Read more

The future of medical 3D printing: Devices with custom geometries and functionalities

The ability to produce custom orthopedic devices that precisely match specific patient anatomies has energized 3D printing in the medical space. University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor Michael McAlpine wants to take that technology a step further by integrating customized functionality into the 3D-printed device.

“The big value in 3D printing is customization not just of the geometry but also the functionality,” McAlpine told PlasticsToday. “That means building in function from various materials that also may be specific to what the patient needs.” He and fellow researchers have taken a big step in that direction with a 3D-printed silicone guide embedded with proteins to enable nerve regeneration. Read more

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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