Silicones are one of the most successful synthetic materials used in healthcare products and applications. Their thermal and chemical stability, electrical insulation and gas permeability make them appropriate for uses ranging between syringes and catheters to drug delivery and wound care.
The use of silicones in healthcare started in the 1940s. Needles and syringes that had been coated with a silicone compound both delayed blood clotting and reduced the pain a patient feels when they were inserted under the skin. Over subsequent years, scientists developed catheters, heart valves, implants, dialysis equipment using silicones. There is a vast range of silicone applications in healthcare today, one of which is a pressure sensitive adhesive that is used that can deliver drugs below the skin to alleviate conditions such as Alzheimer’s Dsease. Silicones also provide needleless access for intravenous drug delivery.
The main reasons why silicone products have been so successful in healthcare is that they are chemically and thermally stable. They are also highly biocompatible and biodurable. The material is also highly workable as well as soft and smooth to the touch. This makes it feel unobtrusive in the body and allows for greater patient comfort. Silicones can be made into combination products through the addition of drugs and other compounds. However, despite this growth, silicones account for only 1.5 percent of global rubber demand, but with aging population worldwide triggering a growing demand for healthcare products, rubber suppliers have to address a future market for silicones that will probably grow faster than most industries and national economies.
Demographic trends in industrialised countries, especially the increase in obesity rates that also contribute to the rise of chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, are further factors in silicone market growth. Silicones are used in the manufacture of gastric bands. These remain inert in the body and so have an additional widespread application in various implants. Silicones are also good electrical insulators so can be used to treat Parkinson’s Disease. An electronic device similar to a pacemaker is implanted in the body and transits signals to particular points in the brain. These signals allow a patient to improve movement control.
Healthcare providers also face pressure to improve patient outcomes and reduce infections in hospital and home surroundings. Many medical devices made from silicones can include antimicrobials such as antibiotics to prevent any spread of infections. These antimicrobial compounds can be loaded onto the bulk silicone product prior to the device manufacturing process, or integrated into it at an early manufacturing stage, to provide a controlled drug release.
Cost control is an important factor in healthcare delivery and has meant that much treatment is being moved from the hospital to the home. This trend is driving the need for portable and lightweight equipment. Silicones are now used in cassettes for home dialysis equipment. Another growing application is their use streamlining laboratory testing. Miniature devices made of silicone compounds can carry out quick tests of tiny samples such as a single drop.
The Writer has been working as a research biochemists in the pharmaceutical industry for the past 5 years. Silicone products that may be seen on http://www.technicalfoamservices.co.uk have been used widely in the healthcare products she has developed.