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Engineering Materials

Slideshow: Plastics Are Fighting Disease

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Elizabeth M
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Worthwhile plastics
Elizabeth M   3/7/2013 7:54:11 AM
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Thanks for this, Ann, it's nice to see plastic being used for some worthy products. Infections in hospitals are a real problem. It's not an exaggeration to say people are sometimes more sick when they leave than when they go in. I in fact just heard of a friend's father who passed away from an infection he picked up in a hospital after he had a successful operation. So it's no joke. I hope these products help prevent such things from occurring in the future.

Charles Murray
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Re: Worthwhile plastics
Charles Murray   3/7/2013 5:30:40 PM
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I agree, Liz. We don't normally think of plastic as a means for fighting disease, but they do in fact play a role in the medical systems that help us recuperate. The MD&M Show is always a great place to see materials, and this is an impressive compilation of this year's best.   

3drob
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Re: Worthwhile plastics
3drob   3/8/2013 9:36:19 AM
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After a trip to the Emergency room, my whole family picked up the Rotovirus (a lot of people were there with the bug at the time), so this rings personal for me.  We were careful (bordering paranoid) not to touch things, which leads me to think it's more the staff than the objects.  As I sat there looking around, I couldn't help but think that so much more could be done to make the areas less prone to disease transmission (from the beds, chairs, curtains, tables, etc.)  Making things easy to wipe down, easy to remove and sterilize, hard to capture/hold fluids seems the obvious first steps.

I like that they are developing plastics capable of surviving sterilization (presumably including autoclaving), but it worries me when they start embedding anything anti-microbial.  Hospitals are becoming the engineering / breeding grounds of super bugs, and it's the over use of antimicrobial materials that is the root cause.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Worthwhile plastics
Ann R. Thryft   3/8/2013 12:43:21 PM
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Rob, the rise of super-bugs is due in part to over-prescription of antibiotics for people and the less widely known use of antibiotics in animals raised for food, as well as poor control of disease in hospital environments. Antimicrobial materials can at least not give organisms a place to grow and spread if present, and harm sick people in hospitals even further, but they're not the cause of the bugs or their spread in the first place.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Worthwhile plastics
Elizabeth M   3/11/2013 9:39:14 AM
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Really scary to hear about this personal story about catching something from the hospital. In addition to plastics, 3drob, hospitals are trying out other new techniques to try to keep things clean. At Johns Hopkins there is a robot that is spraying disinfectant into the air to try to prevent people from catching these hospital superbugs: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/renesas-electronics-unveils-low-power-microcontroller-family-with-up-to-1mb-of-on-chip-flash-2013-03-06

So you're right, there is more they can do to keep things clean so people don't fall ill from the place that is supposed to make them better.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Worthwhile plastics
Ann R. Thryft   3/13/2013 5:26:04 PM
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I agree--I've heard too many stories like this one. I'm not exactly a fan of hospitals anyway but I now avoid them like, uh, the plague.

Greg M. Jung
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Improved Plastics
Greg M. Jung   3/24/2013 12:06:37 PM
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A big challenge in medical product design is to identify and specify plastics that survive the harsh chemicals used when wiping down surfaces for sterilization.  I'm glad to see plastic suppliers continue to address this issue and develop plastics that are more resistant to chemicals and bacterial growth.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Worthwhile plastics
Jack Rupert, PE   3/25/2013 3:26:25 PM
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I'm thinking that what 3drob noted about things not being all that easy to wipe down is due to the increased desire for more pleasing surroundings.  As they give the hospitals a more "homey" feel, they also by necessity make it harder to maintain.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Improved Plastics
Ann R. Thryft   3/26/2013 1:54:41 PM
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Greg, I agree, and that's why I was pleasantly surprised to find how many medical-grade plastics manufacturers are addressing the sterilization issue, including materials that can withstand multiple types of sterilization chemicals and processes.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Worthwhile plastics
Ann R. Thryft   3/26/2013 2:26:11 PM
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Jack, that's a really good point: the homier environments are made less sterile, both in truth and in feeling, by using softer materials, which are harder to clean.

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