Life, It Seems, Comes Down To Peeing In A Plastic Cup…

07 Aug

Where would medicine be without plastic?

This morning I had to drop in to the local vampire for blood work. I’m now at that age when the doctor insists on an annual physical rather than just suggesting one. I was there at 7:26am for a 7:30am show – and there were three older men there already, two sitting on the floor as if they were back in high school waiting for gym class to start. At 7:30 and 8 seconds the lab hadn’t opened yet and the class senior began beating on the door. A nurse popped her head out, inquired if there was a problem, and then grimaced knowing that this was probably an indication of the rest of her day. We herded in like a chain gang, showed our ID, and were handed our cups and then we all stood there waiting our turn to use the one wash room.

Styrene Urine Test Jar

And that’s when the plastic-guy inside me began his day – scanning the room for applications for polymers yet to be discovered.

The FIAlab SMA-Z Flowcell (for absorbance measurements) is a “Z” type flowcell constructed of chemically inert Teflon, Plexiglas (as pictured), Ultem, PEEK or high grade stainless steel. The SMA-Z Cell’s optical path length is available in 1.5, 5, 10, 50, 100 mm (other lengths are available with special orders).

There’s a certain ironic comedy, bordering on tragedy, for the learned plasticologist in a medical clinic. On one side of the room you have all these sophisticated separators and testing machines reeling out tendrils of polyethylene and vinyl tubing, hidden within ornate cabinets made from Kydex. If you look deep into the heart of the blood analyzers you catch a glimmer of translucent bronze – most likely Ultem. Engineered solutions at their finest.

This project required extremely close tolerances to be met in order to form a seal between two solenoids in a kidney dialysis medical device in which very tight tolerances are required to form an adequate fluid seal. The product is manufactured out of Ultem-1000 grade material, which required skilled material processing to deliver quality finished product.

Then, you look at what separates the farmer from their herd, the reception window – the most gawd-awful orangy-yellow faux-lead diamond pattern imprinted on cheap old styrene sheet – which I’m sure I’ve seen in 70’s era hutches. Would it have really blown the budget to spend another $10 and put in a sexy piece of matte-finished acrylic – maybe green edge Crystal Ice? Come on now, we just peed in a jar made from what we’re looking through!

So, what did Marie Curie’s lab look like when she was swooshing isotopes back and forth between glass test tubes and spilling them onto metal counters? Or watching radio-active chemical reactions happen behind regular old glass portals? Would she be amazed to learn how certain grades of acrylic can now withstand x-rays and gamma rays? That her table tops would be plastic too, perhaps blends of acrylic & PVC (Kydex). That her test tubes would sit in high density polyethylene trays rather than metal racks.

Plastic hasn’t just changed modern medicine, it’s evolved it into something different than it was. Plastic has made medicine accessible to more people – it’s made the business of medicine lighter, safer, and more cost effective. It’s inspired people to invent devices that would never have been conceived fifty years ago – that a tube can be made so precisely that it will fit inside an artery and take a doctor’s tool right to center of the heart avoiding the need to rip someone’s chest open (I guess if could have used the term invasive procedure here, but it wouldn’t be as dramatic). Plastic has given the possibility of life.

If you’re a budding young surgeon or medical technologist looking for materials to build your next tool, then please, give us a call at Warehoused Plastic Sales. We have expertise at our fingertips that can give you qualified engineering advice to help you identify the solutions you’ve been looking for.

Heart Catheter Using Teflon Tubing

Teflon/Polypropylene Heart Valve

The Heart Laser housing measures 28″ X 48″ X 62″ (711 x 1220 x 1575mm). Pressure-formed of KYDEX® Vinyloy™ 103 thermoplastic alloy, it won the Annual Thermoforming Institute Award of Excellence.

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Posted by on August 7, 2007 in General Knowledge, Medical


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