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Medical textile miracles

My Take | March 8, 2014 | By:

The more we learn about the human body, the more amazed we are. A highly complex machine, it’s so efficient that it’s baffling. But as brilliant and resilient as our bodies are, they wear out, get sick or are injured. It is for times like these that medical research has come up with all sorts of replacement parts for the things that no longer function as they should, so it’s a good thing that our bodies are also tolerant and accepting of foreign objects from titanium hips to fabric stents.

Not surprisingly, textiles hold an important place in these developments. Flexible, versatile and adaptable, textiles can be engineered to “become” skin, tissue, tendons and arteries. Our lead feature in this issue, “The Healing Textiles,” discusses some of the markets and applications that fit under the biomedical textiles umbrella and some companies that found a niche need in this area and filled it.

A niche in the biomedical field does not mean small or insignificant, however. These new technologies could have a profound impact on the markets they serve. You’ll want to read the “Featured” articles to get the details.

Research continues in an array of new products and technologies: wearable sensors that can detect dangerous chemicals and monitor the wearer’s vital signs (“Nose in clothes,” one year later); self-healing skin that’s better in some ways than the original (“Synthetic skin is self-healing”); and an antimicrobial core engineered at the fiber stage of fabric production (“PurThread uses antimicrobial core”).

The proliferation of new biomedical textiles has sparked calls for the establishment of standards in the production of medical grade fiber. If that’s not a signal of growth, I don’t know what is.

Next time you visit a hospital—and I hope it’s nothing serious—take a look around you at all the medical textiles that may have benefited from technological advancements, from durable faux leather upholstery to privacy curtains with antimicrobial properties. Then consider the biotextiles that you can’t see. Combine these two areas and you’ll get a feel for their impressive impact on healthcare. Could be a real shot in the arm for the advanced textiles market.

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