How do silicones help innovation in precision medicine?

Good health is important to all of us and being able to innovate in the medical sector plays a key role in ensuring our wellbeing. When we look at the way medicine has been evolving recently, we see more and more innovative practices such as digitalisation, use of robots, Artificial Intelligence or 3D printing.

Silicone combined with 3D printing can make the lives of transplant patients easier. In this case, we are referring to medical-grade silicone, which is malleable and biocompatible. Its chemical properties can function in harmony with human tissue. Medical-grade silicone is resistant to cracking, pitting, shearing and most importantly, is safe to use. It is also easily malleable and guarantees temperature stability.

Trachea Transplants

The trachea is a unique 12cm organ that transports air between our vocal cords and the lungs. During the global Covid pandemic, more patients have been undergoing incubation, a procedure causing heavy damage to the trachea. Surgeons started using silicone cylinders in trachea implants to duplicate the rigidity of the organ. After around two years, these cylinders are removed and once this is completed, patients can take a full breath on their own.

Breastbone Prothesis

Jose Galbis, a surgeon from Valencia successfully performed a transplant on a 14-year-old girl after she had ‘pectus excavatum’, a condition in which the breastbone sinks towards the inside of the chest. The condition can cause pressure on the heart or lungs and can limit the ability of the patient to grow. In this case, the Valencian surgeon decided to design and implant a 3D printed silicone prosthesis to correct the deformity. Just two weeks after the surgery, the 14-year-old was able to go back to her usual routine.

Heart Valves

Scientists from ETH Zurich are researching the use of 3D printing in heart valves by creating custom-made valves with medical-grade silicones. The method is to first print a personalised sample from the scan of the patient and then use it to manufacture the valve. One of the biggest values of this patent is the ability to print heart valves that are like their biological counterpart, not only in terms of geometry but also in terms of functionality.

Associated SDG Targets

SDG Good Health and Well-being