Category Archives: Medical

Biopolymers Used Inside Body


Solvay Advanced Polymers Launches Solviva(TM) Biomaterials Available for Use in Implantable Medical Devices

2007-10-24 12:21:47 -Solvay Advanced Polymers announced today at the K-Show the launch of its Solviva(TM) family of biomaterials offered for use in implantable medical devices. No other supplier has more polymers available for use in implantable applications than Solvay Advanced Polymers with its Solviva line of biomaterials.

Solviva Biomaterials are comprised of: Zeniva(TM) PEEK (polyetheretherketone) – one of the most chemically resistant plastics available, exhibiting high strength and stiffness along with excellent toughness and fatigue resistance

Proniva(TM) SRP (self-reinforced polyphenylene) – the stiffest and strongest unreinforced thermoplastic available, offering exceptional chemical resistance and hardness

Veriva(TM) PPSU (polyphenylsulfone) – offers unsurpassed toughness combined with transparency and excellent chemical resistance

Eviva(TM) PSU (polysulfone) – offers practical toughness in a strong, transparent polymer

“We are very proud to leverage our technology in creating this family of products,” commented Roger Kearns, President & CEO of Solvay Advanced Polymers. “The ability to supply our customers with biomaterials that are the foundation for products that may help to extend and improve the quality of life in critical healthcare applications is tremendously rewarding. We look forward to a successful rollout and further enhancement to our line in the near future.”

The launch of Solviva Biomaterials is the culmination of more than 18 months of planning and extensive investments by Solvay Advanced Polymers in its production facilities, biocompatibility testing and the installation of one of the industry’s most stringent production processes. Specifically, those efforts include meeting the relevant aspects of the current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guidelines of the Food & Drug Administration’s 21CFR Part 820 Quality Systems Requirements and ensuring manufacturing operations are in compliance with relevant aspects of the ISO 13485 Quality Management System for the manufacture of medical devices.

“We have invested a considerable amount of resources into ensuring that the Solviva biomaterials line meets or exceeds the critical regulations required of a supplier,” explained Shawn Shorrock, Global Market Manager, Healthcare for Solvay Advanced Polymers.

Solvay Advanced Polymers’ heritage as a supplier to the healthcare industry goes back more than three decades, and today includes widespread use of its ultra and high-performance polymers for orthopedic applications, cases and trays, medical devices and dental instruments. The company’s sulfone polymers are also used globally in the manufacture of membranes for kidney dialysis.

Solvay Advanced Polymers is currently in active product trials for its line of Solviva biomaterials with several medical device manufacturers including worldwide leader, Zimmer(R) Medical ( For more information on the Solviva line of biomaterials, visit

About Solvay Advanced Polymers

Solvay Advanced Polymers, LLC produces more plastics with more performance than any other company in the world. This gives design engineers worldwide more ways to solve top design challenges in automotive, healthcare, electronics, aerospace and other demanding industries. Learn more about the full line of Solvay Advanced Polymers’ SolvaSpire family of ultra polymers at

Solvay is an international chemical and pharmaceutical Group with headquarters in Brussels. It employs some 29,000 people in 50 countries. In 2006, its consolidated sales amounted to EUR 9.4 billion, generated by its three sectors of activity: Chemicals, Plastics and Pharmaceuticals. Solvay (Euronext : SOLB.BE – Bloomberg: SOLB.BB – Reuters: SOLBt.BR) is listed on the Euronext stock exchange in Brussels. Details are available at

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 24, 2007 in Medical, R&D


Medical Plastics: Avoiding Biological Interface Reactions

Surface Modification of Plastics for MEDICAL DEVICE APPLICATIONS –
By: June-Jim Schepple,Jeff Dykhouse
June 1999

Plastics, polymers, and resins have become widely accepted for in vivo and in vitro medical applications. Many of these materials have properties that lend themselves well to the manufacture of medical appliances or devices; they are relatively inexpensive and easily molded or formed into complex shapes, and bulk physical properties may be selected from a wide range of parameters such as rigidity and temperature stability. Unfortunately, fabrication procedures that require bonding are difficult to achieve, and biological interface reactions within the body or in the laboratory can limit their in vivo and in vitro performance.

Gas plasma technology offers a technique for easing these limitations by modifying the surfaces of these polymers. By altering just the first few atomic layers, the surfaces of most medical polymers can be rendered wettable so that adhesive bonding can be achieved to troublesome materials such as polyolefins, silicones, and fluoropolymers. In a similar fashion, more exotic processes such as plasma grafting and polymerization can produce totally new custom surfaces without loss of the desirable characteristics of the bulk material.

Plasma is a low pressure, gaseous “glow discharge” process that has been used in the aerospace, semiconductor, and electronics industries for more than 30 years for cleaning, etching, and surface treatment of various materials. Plasma treatment does not affect the bulk of the materials and plasma treated parts are generally visually and physically indistinguishable from untreated parts.

Plasma is now routinely used for controlling the wettability of test tubes and lab vessels, for pre-bonding preparation of angioplasty balloons and catheters, for treating blood filtration membranes, and to manipulate surface conditions of in vitro structures to enhance or prohibit culture cell growth.


Given enough energy, any gas can be excited into a “plasma,” which is a mixture of ions, electronics, excited species, and free radicals. There are many temperature and pressure conditions where this phenomenon will occur, but for practical considerations, radio frequency or microwave energy is commonly used, enabling these processes to take place at low temperatures (25-100¡C) and low pressure (0.1-1 torr), where surface reactions with polymers are feasible without bulk interactions.(1,2)

Plasma “treatment” usually refers to a plasma reaction that either results in modification of the molecular structure of the surface or atomic substitution. Even with be-nign gases such as oxygen or nitrogen, plasma treatment can create highly reactive species at low temperatures. High energy ultraviolet light is emitted in the process, which along with the high energy ions and electrons provide the energy necessary to fracture polymer bonds and initiate chemical reactions at the surface. Only a few atomic layers on the surface are involved in the process, so the bulk properties of the polymer remain unaltered by the chemistry, while the low process temperature eliminates concerns about thermal modification or distortion of the bulk. Unique reactions can be promoted by appropriate choice of reactant gases, and unusual polymer byproducts and structures can be formed.

In many instances, plasma cleaning with benign gases such as oxygen or nitrogen provides adequate surface activation for enhanced wetting and adhesive bonding. With other targeted end results or substrate materials, it may be necessary to utilize reactants which result in “grafting” or surface chemistry modification to achieve the desired results.
It is frequently possible to select reactants that form volatile byproducts upon reaction of the plasma with the substrate material. These, upon desorbtion from the surface of the treated material, are removed by the vacuum pump, resulting in etching of the surface without the necessity for further scrubbing or neutralizing.


Oxidizing species such as air, oxygen, water vapor, or nitrous oxide are often used to remove organics, leaving functional oxygen-containing groups on the surface. These groups greatly enhance wetting, improve adhesive bonding, and, in some instances, create acidic surfaces.(3,4) In at least one instance, sterilization of components has been reported with the use of strong oxidizers such as ozone or hydrogen peroxide vapors.

Reducing gas species such as hydrogen or methane-often diluted with argon, helium, or nitrogen-may be used to remove organics from surfaces sensitive to oxidation. This chemistry may also be used to partially substitute hydrogen atoms for fluorine or oxygen in polymer surfaces. The noble gas species, such as argon or helium, are chemically inert, so they do not combine or become part of the surface chemistry. Instead, they transport energy to break chemical bonds in polymer chains. Broken polymer chains result in “dangling bonds,” which recombine with other reactive sites, resulting in significant molecular restructuring and cross-linking. The creation of dangling bonds allows for chemical “grafting” reactions to occur. This process is involved in several of the biomedical applications.(5)

Active gases, such as ammonia, are used to create amino groups on the surface. This type of functionality has an influence on important surface properties such as pH and Lewis basicity.

Fluorinated species such as Tetrofluoromethane (CF4), Sulfur Hexafluourine (SF6), and perfluorohydrocarbons may be used to induce substitution of fluorine atoms for hydrogen atoms in the surface structure. Teflon-like structures may be created, resulting in a very hydrophobic, chemically inert surface with significant chemical stability.

Polymerization, or deposition, processes may include reactions utilizing a wide variety of gases, including some of the organic or organo-metallic compounds, which deposit nonvolatile polymer films.6 In many instances these reactant gases maybe toxic, corrosive, or otherwise hazardous and require special handling such as heated gas transfer plumbing and measurement instrumentation, reactor exhaust scrubbing, and trapping of reaction byproducts. Polymerization processes will generally necessitate frequent cleaning of the reaction chamber, since all surfaces ex-posed to the plasma will be coated.


Surface Wetting.  Plasma treatment of polyethylene or polypropylene disposable Petri or Assay dishes greatly enhances wetting. Contact angles as low as 22û have been demonstrated on these materials after only a few minutes of oxygen plasma exposure (see Table 1). When these parts are properly packaged after treatment, the contact angle has been seen to be stable for several years.

Conversely, many medical polymers can be made extremely hydrophobic. Teflon-like films and other similar surface treatments can be easily accomplished on most polymers using fluorinated gases. For example, small diameter tubes can be treated so that when immersed in aqueous solutions they do not draw fluid by capillary action.

One of the simplest techniques used to evaluate plasma surface treatment is a wetting angle test using a contact goniometer. Surface roughness and substrate cleanliness need to be tightly controlled to obtain quantitative data. Standard wetting solutions are often used to obtain accurate surface energy values.

Most untreated polymers are only poorly wettable. Initial contact angles may vary from 60-100û. Table 1 shows a sample of some typical contact angle measurements:

Table 1.
Typical wetting angles,
before and after
Oxygen plasma treatment.(7)

Before After
Polyptopylene 87° 22°
Polyethylene 87° 22°
Polyamide (nylon) 73° 15°
Polyimide 79° 10°
Polycarbonate 75° 33°
Tefzel 92° 53°


96° 68°

After 5 min. of oxygen plasma treatment, the contact angle decreases significantly.

Adhesive Bonding. Many intravascular devices, such as balloon catheters, are assembled by adhesive bonding of polyethylene components. Chemical surface activation or mechanical surface roughening techniques provide only modest bonding performance, with bond failures noted after as few as eight repetitive inflations. With plasma treatment, up to 40 repetitions are achievable. Typical bond strength data are shown in Table 2.(7)

Table 2.
Typical lap-shear bond
strengths (psi), without and
with plasma treatment.

Without With
Polypropylene 370 1380
(low density)
370 1450
(high density)
315 3125
Nylon 850 4000
Polystyrene 570 4000
410 928
Tefzel 410 3200

An oxygen plasma not only removes organic residues but also chemically reacts with the surface to form strong covalent carbon-oxygen bonds, which are much more polar and more reactive than the initial carbon-hydrogen bonds. The increased polarity of the surface accounts for the substantial increases in wettability and adds a degree of covalent bonding to the surface-adhesive interface. (Note that other gases may be used to attain similar results in instances where oxidizing species may be harmful to components of the assembly.)

The bond strength ultimately realized will certainly be affected by:

1. Initial cleanliness of the surface(s).
2. Wetting of the surface by the adhesive.
3. Cross-linking effects.
4. Chemical interaction of the adhesive with the surface.

Any mold release compounds, unpolymerized monomers, plasticizers, or additives that may have migrated to the surface must be removed either by plasma cleaning or washing before surface modification is attempted. Immediate assembly is usually advised after the surface has been prepared. Once the surface has been optimized and bonded, the bond is permanent and does not degrade over time.

In-vivo and in-vitro applications. To increase biocompatibility in vivo, the issue of thrombogenesis (the propensity of a surface to form or initiate clotting) must be addressed. Many unmodified materials encourage protein binding and thus initiate the process of clot formation. To combat this process, antithrombonin (anticlotting) coatings are often applied to the surface, but when dealing with polymers these antithrombonin coatings often fail to effectively bond to the target surface.

Using an active gas plasma, surfaces may be modified by heparinizing or by grafting of antithrombotic functional groups, which achieve effective chemical bonding to previously inert material surfaces. Process variables are dependent upon a range of factors including selection of the base materials, composition of the antithrombotic, and the expected product lifetime.

Animal test results of the procedure on surface modified and heparin coated polyure-thane catheters revealed no protein attachment after a 30-day indwelling. Simultaneous testing on surface modified but uncoated polyurethane catheters disclosed only slight protein attachment, while unmodified and uncoated catheters show severe thrombus formation.

In tests performed on plasma modified blood filters, results showed substantial reduction in platelet retention compared to untreated materials.

Attachment of in vitro cultures. It is sometimes necessary to manipulate surface conditions of in vitro structures so as to encourage or enhance culture cell growth. In specific cases where cell attachment is necessary to ensure proliferation, plasma modified in vitro culture cell containers yielded dramatic improvement over untreated containers. Testing has confirmed that, by using gas plasma surface modification procedures, materials such as PET, polyethylene and K-Resin can yield substantially higher performance than in the untreated state.


1 J.R. Hollohan and A.T. Bell, Techniques and Applications of Plasma Chemistry, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, 1974

2 Chapman, Glow Discharge Processes, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, 1980

3 T.J. Hook, J.A. Gardella, and L. Salvati, Journal of Materials Research, 2, 132, 1987

4 D.S. Everhart and C.N. Reilly, Annals of Chemistry, 53, 665, 1981

5 M. Szycher and W.J. Robinson, Editors, Synthetic Biomedical Polymers, Technomic, Westport, CT, 1980

6 R. d’Agostino, Editor, Plasma Deposition, Treatment, and Etching of Polymers, Academic Press Inc., San Diego, CA, 1990

7 E.M. Liston, Journal of Adhesion, 30, 198, 1989

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 11, 2007 in General Knowledge, Medical


Plastic Used To Hunt Cancer


Plastic nanospheres to hunt out cancer

ABC Science Online

Friday, 9 February 2007


Nanospheres could help take the sting out of chemotherapy by delivering anticancer drugs more effectively and safely, say Australian researchers.

Dr Martina Stenzel, a polymer scientist from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), will present her team’s research at the Australasian Polymer Symposium in Hobart next week.

When anticancer drugs are injected into the blood, they are recognised as toxic foreign agents and quickly disposed of.

This means people undergoing chemotherapy have to put up with numerous intravenous injections to keep the drugs at an effective concentration.

This method of delivering drugs also has nasty side-effects because the whole body is affected.

“You poison your whole body with these things,” says Stenzel.

“The cancer may be [destroyed] but the patient has to recover from the treatment itself.”

So Stenzel says the holy grail of drug delivery is to find a way of getting a drug straight to the cells it’s supposed to be treating, and ensuring it is released slowly over a period of time at the right concentration.

Search and destroy mission

Stenzel and colleagues at the UNSW’s Centre for Advanced Macromolecular Design are among the first to explore the delivery of drugs in nanospheres, tiny plastic spheres.

These would contain, say, a week’s worth of drug that, once injected into the bloodstream would quickly seek out cancer cells and slowly release the drug directly into them.

Stenzel and team have been experimenting with about 50 different nanospheres, between 10 and 100 nanometres in diameter.

Each sphere is made of specially designed polymers. There’s a hydrophilic (water loving) coating to help get them through the bloodstream and a hydrophobic (oil loving) interior that can soak up the drug.

On the outside they are coated with special molecules, called ligands, that recognise and latch onto particular types of cells.

While further research is required to find the best ligands to target cancer cells, over healthy cells, the researchers have so far had some interesting results.

While some nanospheres seem to be toxic to human cells and kill them before they get a chance to deliver the drug, others latch onto the cells, or are taken up by them.

Once attached or inside the cell, the nanospheres release the drug slowly as planned.

Releasing the drug

Stenzel says in some cases the drug can simply slowly diffuse out of the nanosphere, in other cases, they have shown the nanospheres can dissolve in response to heat or acidity.

Cancer cells are slightly warmer than healthy cells and more acidic.

Stenzel says the ideal would be for biodegradable polymers to be used so the nanospheres don’t build up in the body.

But the nanospheres can’t be too biodegradable or they won’t survive the trip through the bloodstream to their target.

Stenzel and team recently received two Australian Research Council Discovery Grants for the research and are talking to a commercial partner.

1 Comment

Posted by on August 29, 2007 in Medical, R&D


Choosing Plastic For Medical Forceps


CES Medical Polymer Selector – Case Study

Selection of plastic for medical forceps

This case study demonstrates how the CES Medical Polymer Selector, drawing on the Medical Plastics data module, could be used to establish the best material from which to make medical forceps.

The material must be USP Class VI or ISO 10993 certified, steam sterilizable, and adequately impact resistant. When applied to the medical plastics data, these criteria narrow the choice to 44 out of 628 materials.

With these constraints satisfied, the material needs to be both strong and stiff in bending, for the lowest cost and lowest volume. We can investigate these objectives through the use of a materials selection chart:

Materials selection chart - click for a higher resolution image

This chart, created in the CES Selector software, shows the trade-off between lowest cost and lowest volume of material. It allowed the following analysis:

  • Our initial thought was to use unfilled PEEK (PEEK Classix). The chart shows PEEK is a valid option, but it is neither low cost nor low volume, so not an optimal choice
  • Unfilled polypropylene copolymer is the cheapest option, but the forceps handles will need to be bulky to have adequate stiffness and strength
  • The forceps could be made just one-tenth of the bulk with PEEK carbon fiber composite (e.g. Endolign). However, this material is much harder to process than other options
  • Carbon fiber filled LCP (Vectra) and glass filled PPS (Fortron) offer 0.2 and 0.3 of the volume of polypropylene respectively
  • An intermediate choice is PPO/PS alloy (medical grade Noryl) with about twice the bulk of LCP or PPS, but a third of the material cost

Post-script: Surgical Innovations Group chose Ticona’s Fortron (40% glass filled PPS) for their forceps design. LCP-based materials gave too poor a surface finish. (source: Composites Technology, Dec 2003)

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 22, 2007 in Mechanical Plastics, Medical


Teflon Could Defeat Medical Superbugs


Teflon being tested for use with antibiotic

It might let humans use frog-skin poison

Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The same chemical property that keeps eggs from sticking to frying pans may let antibiotics produced by frogs fight off drug-resistant infections in humans, researchers said.

Scientists added Teflon, a nonstick coating made by DuPont for cookware and medical equipment, to molecules of a bacteria-killing substance found on frog skin. In its natural form, the substance, called an antimicrobial peptide, can be broken down in the human body, where it attaches to cells, releases toxic components and dissolves before it has a defensive effect.

The Teflon versions of the antibiotic can stay intact in the body longer and may be safe to use. New drugs with antimicrobial peptides, which kill a wide spectrum of bacteria, may offer treatment to patients infected with drug-resistant “superbugs,” scientists say.

“Right now, if you are unlucky and have these superbugs, we don’t have an antibiotic that will treat you,” said E. Neil Marsh, a chemistry professor who conducted the research at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Marsh discussed his findings today at the American Chemical Society’s 234th national meeting in Boston.

“This is one area of medicine that we’re actually going backwards in,” he said in a phone interview. “Things that used to work won’t work anymore.”

Marsh collaborated with fellow University of Michigan chemistry professor, Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, to make the nonstick antibiotics. Ramamoorthy had been studying antimicrobial peptides, an immune system defense used by all plants and animals and strongest in those most exposed to bacteria.

Frogs produce high levels of the toxic substance to prevent infection on their moist skin. The lethal poisons on some rainforest frogs are “close cousins of an antimicrobial peptide,” Marsh said.

Scientists have been studying the peptides for over 25 years and have struggled to find a way to limit their toxic effects in humans. Marsh’s Teflon version may be the solution.

The manmade material gets its non-stick quality from the element fluorine, which won’t react or bond with almost any other substance, including those inside the human body. That property will possibly make the new antibiotics safer for humans, Marsh said.

Scientists must conduct further experiments using Teflon antibiotics, which could be tested in humans in three to five years, he said.

Teflon is a trademark of DuPont for fluoropolymer resins resistant to high temperatures, chemical reactions, corrosion and stress cracks, according to the company’s Web site.

Polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, is inert to virtually all chemicals and is considered the most slippery material in existence, according to the company.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 21, 2007 in Mechanical Plastics, Medical, R&D


Plastic Replaces Hand


Super Realistic Bionic Hand

By Charlie Sorrel July 18, 2007 | 8:14:16 AM

If Luke Skywalker hadn’t lived so long ago, and so very far away, he might have gone to Touch Bionics for his replacement hand. The i-Limb is supposedly the world’s most advanced bionic hand. It works on the usual myoelectric system, which uses electrodes to detect electrical signals from muscles and translate them into movement, but Touch Bionics have brought some innovations to the game.

A problem with robotic hands is the lack of tactile feedback. The human hand can feel when it has a good grip. A bionic hand keeps going, and can crush delicate objects. The i-Limb hand has stall-detection, which tells the hand when it has exerted enough pressure. The hand is also modular, so that a doctor can “swap out fingers” in minutes instead of sending the whole unit in for repair. There is also the brilliantly named “Thumb Parking” function, which stops it getting tangled when dressing, for example.

Most amazing of all, though is how natural these things look. The photo above features an i-Limb hand. Can you tell which it is? Touch Bionics also offer the a plain plastic version, which they say is popular with military personnel. It’s not quite Terminator 2 style, though; it has a thin plastic sheath to protect against dust and water and to provide grip. But it still looks a lot nicer than the traditional pirate’s hook.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 16, 2007 in Medical, R&D


Body Parts Turned Into Plastic


Article published Sunday, August 12, 2007

University of Toledo doctor turns flesh into plastic learning tool

Neuroscience professor pioneers technique to preserve organs, tissue


Dr. Carlos Baptista, left, and Dr. Jeffrey Gold discuss defects in a child’s heart that Dr. Baptista is considering for the process of transforming into a plastic organ that can be studied.

Zoom | Photo Reprints

Since 1978 this tiny heart, not much bigger than a golf ball, soaked in formaldehyde.

That was the year its owner succumbed to a congenital defect that made its lifetime a sad and swift defeat.

Dr. Jeffrey Gold examines the heart, probes its sole ventricle — there should have been two — that did double duty for this infant gone nearly 30 years now. He notes the lacking connection between the heart and the lungs.

He examines the accordioned Dacron tube, as wide as a finger, sewn in to make up for nature’s missing connection.

About once a month, Dr. Gold — the dean of the medical school and 25 years a cardiac surgeon — meets Dr. Carlos Baptista in the Gross Anatomy Laboratory in the basement of the Block Health Science Building on the campus of the former Medical College of Ohio — today the University of Toledo college of medicine.

Together, the men work their way through bucket after bucket of tiny hearts like this one.

Dr. Gold diagnoses defects that killed these infants, noting the special features of each. Dr. Baptista takes note of it all, asks questions, makes comments, assuring that he thoroughly understands each postmortem diagnosis.

Then Dr. Baptista turns these hearts into tools. He is one of the pioneers of a process that turns organs and body parts into perfect, everlasting plastic.

Back in his office, the associate professor of neuroscience pulls a fist-size adult heart from a file cabinet.

“Hold it up to the light,” he instructs. He points to a small section of the wall that divides the heart’s upper chambers. Faint daylight glows through it.

“You can see how thin it is,” he says.

Suddenly it all becomes clear: Why children are sometimes born with a hole in this septum; why older people can develop a breach in this paper-thin shield.

“You are appreciating something we want students to see,” he says.

The heart is human and it is plastic, the product of Dr. Baptista’s science, and his art.

The workshop
Students seeing Dr. Baptista saunter across the parking lot near the Howard Collier Building — his face too young for his 53 years and too young for the gray hair he’s had since his 20s — know he may be carrying a body part: a leg, a brain, a bucket of infant hearts.


Dr. Carlos Baptista, an associate professor of neuroscience, preserves specimens in acetone.

Zoom | Photo Reprints

He steps into the air-conditioned offices of a small out-building across East Campus Drive from the main campus, passes through a couple tall-ceilinged storage rooms before, finally, unlocking a tall gate. It is uncomfortably warm in this part of the building, not much cooler than the swelter outside.

This is his workshop: Three small windowless rooms with block walls. Many homes have larger bathrooms. The setting is positively unclinical. On the floor of one room are three large plastic tubs, the kind one might use to store toys. Dr. Baptista pulls back the lid of the first tub. Inside is a breast with an obvious tumor, there is a heart, there is a stomach, there are ovaries. The sharp smell of nail polish remover — it’s acetone — scrapes the back of the throat as it rises from the tub. Even the light switches in this room are special: They don’t spark. Acetone is flammable, explosive, toxic.

These tanks begin the process of turning body parts into plastic.

It’s an unlovely technique, but what brews here is education. These body parts will be touchable. They won’t smell. They’ll last nearly forever. And they’ll educate hundreds of students studying to be doctors. They’ll also form a lending library for cardiologists studying the defects that occur sometime in infant hearts.

Holding the small heart he examined with Dr. Baptista, Dr. Gold explains: “Think about the power for a surgeon or cardiologist to spend time looking at these things when you can handle them, look inside them, touch them, when you’re not in the operating room having to make critical life decisions in minutes.”

A simple process
The process of making flesh plastic is stunningly simple.

The organ or body part is dissected to show some interesting feature: the tangle of arteries in a hand, the blossom of a tricuspid valve inside the heart, or the hole worn away in an ulcerated stomach. Then, with many other organs, it soaks in acetone. Slowly, the acetone replaces any water in the tissues. It also turns body fat to liquid.

Next, the organ is placed in a vacuum chamber full of liquid silicone. The chamber is inside a large freezer kept at minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit. Every few days, Dr. Baptista increases vacuum pressure in the chamber. Slowly, the acetone is drawn out, replaced by the silicone.

Finally, gas cures the now silicone-impregnated specimen. Silicone molecules crosslink into a durable plastic in every cell.

“It’s precious. It’s like jewelry,” he says of these donated organs, now ready for classroom discussion.

“The process is very simple,” says Dr. Baptista, who taught himself how to plastinate organs in the 1980s while working as a professor in Brazil. “It’s simple in the manner that you follow instructions. Then the refinement, that is the art and the science combined. It is like cooking. Some people say they can cook, and they can cook. Other people can do the cooking very well. This process has this: You have to put in your art.”

A 30-year-old technique
The general recipe for turning organs to plastic is 30 years old. It was developed by Gunther von Hagens, the German anatomist who went on to create the traveling Body Worlds exhibitions, where flayed humans in exotic poses of dancers and runners display muscles, organs, and vessels for the inspection of the curious.

In those commercial displays, organs and muscles are brightly colored, injected with special dyes. But the medical school models for the most part are monochrome: gray after long years in formaldehyde or a yellowish color for fresher flesh.

The idea of preserving human remains is ancient. While Egyptians developed a mummification process as part of religious belief, there’s some suggestion that the knowledge of mummification — which included removal of the brain and internal organs — may have played a role in the development of medical practice.

“Even in Egypt … they were also doing surgery,” says Ronald Wade, who directs the University of Maryland school of medicine anatomical services division.

“They were doing brain surgery.”

Mr. Wade was among the first in the United States to plastinate body parts. He directs the state of Maryland’s body donation program, which distributes some 1,500 cadavers each year to medical schools.

“I grew up in a funeral home,” Mr. Wade says. “Death is my life.” It’s clearly a favorite joke. He said it a few times.

Mr. Wade says early efforts to preserve human remains for study arose with the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, as dissection became a part of medical education and the body-thieving practices of “resurrection men” a shadowy adjunct to physician studies.

By the early 1800s, Mr. Wade says, Scottish anatomist Allen Burns was experimenting with preservation techniques that had a great deal in common with preserving food. The University of Maryland now holds the Burns specimens.

Many of the preserved organs were cured in salt and sugar, ‘‘just like you would dry beef,” Mr. Wade says. “They dried them out, and they were very light and delicate, just like beef jerky.

“When I came to the University of Maryland, they were shown in cabinets. Some were stuck together because the sugar was starting to come out.”

Burns was fascinated with the vascular system and injected hearts with a kind of red mortar “almost like cement,” Mr. Wade says. “I have hearts he injected that are 8 pounds, 16-pound hearts. They’re hard as a rock. They’re also very delicate.”

On this background, plastination was a huge leap forward.

It came from methods used for preparation of microscopic slides, Mr. Wade said. Its creator, Mr. von Hagens, “took it macroscopic. If you can do this for little fishes, why not big worms?”

Another teaching tool
Although Dr. Baptista plastinates body parts for other institutions, which helps cover the cost of his tiny operation, the ones he does for UT come from the university’s anatomical donation program.

Every year, some 120 to 130 bodies are donated to the university, said Mark H. Hankin, PhD, the director of the program that began the year after the medical school’s 1967 founding.

Plastinated specimens won’t replace the tradition of training students with real human bodies, says Carol Bennett-Clarke, PhD and associate professor in neurosciences — where the anatomy program resides. Rather, such specimens offer another teaching tool.

“We actually don’t have any intention of replacing cadaver dissection,” she says. “Our real intention is to make it more time-efficient.”

She and Dr. Baptista used plastinated hand dissections to investigate how effective they were as a teaching tool.

One group of students performed a traditional dissection of the hand during a three-hour laboratory period. A second group studied predissected hands to learn anatomy.

Testing before and after the hand-anatomy laboratory showed that the two groups learned the material equally well. But the group using the plastinated specimens learned faster.

The research group selected hand dissection because it is a difficult thing to do.

“Students find that it’s particularly time intensive, and not really rewarding,” Ms. Bennett-Clarke says. “The structures of the hand are very, very tightly knit with each other. And it takes a very patient and somewhat skilled person to dissect.”

In the three-hour lab typically assigned for hand dissection, student success rates fall about 50 percent.

“Wasting three hours of time for a 50 percent yield, that’s not really time well spent for them,” she says. “There’s just an explosion of information we need to present to the medical student,” and in this instance, plastination squeezes in learning a little more efficiently.

Emerging from obscurity
Dr. Baptista has labored almost unknown in the neurosciences department at the medical school. Many others there have no idea that a UT professor has plastinated body parts in Toledo since 1987.

But there are signs his star is rising. Plans are afoot to take him out of the tiny rooms where he works and put him into a larger laboratory space.

It’s ironic that the University of Michigan visited him when it was establishing its plastination laboratory and now possesses far posher facilities and the full-time assistance of technicians. Dr. Baptista generally works alone.

Just last week, two other universities contacted him for assistance in plastinating specimens. Other professionals in the field know and respect his work.

Mr. Wade of the University of Maryland says, “There are very few people that have developed the expertise and experience in this process. Carlos is one of them.”

And if you’ve ever visited the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the plastinated sections of a head displayed there are his work. In fact, the head MRI that accompanies the display is actually an MRI of Dr. Baptista’s head.

“Who can say they have their head in a museum?” Dr. Baptista jokes. “Nobody could say that.”

Contact Jenni Laidman at:jenni@theblade.comor 419-724-650

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 16, 2007 in Medical, R&D