Textiles and textile fibres have long played a vital role in the medical and health care sector. Traditional products include bandages for covering wounds, sutures for stitching together the sides of open wounds to promote healing, substrates for plaster of Paris casts, and incontinence products.
However, the role played by fibre-based materials has advanced dramatically in recent years. For example, bioglass fibres are now used in tissue engineering to create new bone structures, and textile scaffolds are being used to promote cell growth and build cell structures. Textile-based stents—small cylindrical tubes made from biocompatible materials—are helping to support and keep open veins and arteries. Many are complex structures and require the use of sophisticated manufacturing technologies.
Fibres are also being used in nerve regeneration techniques to repair injuries resulting from trauma or surgery. Furthermore, devices made from textile fibres can be implanted to release therapeutic drugs at controlled rates and for controlled lengths of time.
Bandages have themselves evolved into advanced dressings which enable antibiotic and other drugs to be delivered directly to the parts of the body where they are needed. Some incorporate agents for stopping blood loss quickly. Recent advances include those from: Swiss-based Tissupor; US researchers at the University of Texas and the Alain MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute; Iceland-based Össur; USA-based Johnson & Johnson; Taiwan-based Feng Chia University; USA-based Velcro Industries; and three Russian researchers. Sutures have evolved from natural materials obtained from animals’ intestines to advanced biodegradable or bioabsorbable materials which eliminate the need for further medical attention once stitching has taken place. Recent advances in sutures include those from: Italy-based Promoitalia Internat; France-based Laboratoires Brothier; US worker William L d’Agostino; and Canada-based Angiotech Pharmaceuticals. In casts, moisture-curing resins and glass fibres offer a lightweight and more comfortable alternative to plaster of Paris. Recent advances have been published by BSN Medical and the SM Coyne Company, both of which are based in the USA.
Innovations in stents have come from USA-based Maquet Cardiovascular, Scimed Life Systems, and Boston Scientific Scimed. Advances in cell growth technology include the use of cell scaffolds made from microfibre membranes from three Japanese co-workers, Kazuyoshi Kita, Yasuhiro Katsuragi, and Akane Takemura. Advances in textile fibres and conduits developed in order to guide nerve reconnection include a product from UK-based Neurotex. Other areas of development include antimicrobial fabrics for medical uses and medical garments.