How Is Silicone Used in Medicine?
Silicones are synthetic polymers used in a variety of everyday environments but increasingly incorporated into the medical supply chain.
Although generally governed by high standards, the manufacture of materials for use in health services is particularly strictly regulated, and the EU directives are regularly updated via the Medical Device Regulation.
The variety of uses in the medical sector covers not only products created from a silicone moulding process used in equipment but also items such as instrument handles and wound protection covers. The latter must be suitable for all patients when in physical contact. Few materials can match the diverse demands in the health sector, but silicones are one of them.
The UK is a world leader in the manufacture of these items, and examples can be found at sites such as https://www.meadex.co.uk/materials/silicone/#moulding.
A major benefit of silicones is their hydrophobic nature. This has meant they were even considered for preventing coagulation in blood over 70 years ago. This quality makes them attractive when they come into contact with skin. Unlike latex, liquid silicone rubber is non-allergenic and so skin is unaffected by contact.
The material’s flexibility and softness ensures comfort for patients when wounds are dressed. Its hydrophobic qualities prevents sticking, and it resists bacterial growth.
In wounds exudate silicone is insoluble, and the size of the molecules means they cannot pass through skin and reach blood vessels and cannot be carried around the body producing systemic effects.
Recent research has also suggested that silicones may have a role in scar management involving burn hypertrophic scars and minor keloids.
A more commonly known application is aesthetic implants involving a silicon gel, but the wider range of uses of this remarkable material may surprise.
For over 50 years silicones have been employed in orthopaedics implants, in drains and shunts, catheters, valves and in elements of dialysis and heart bypass machines.
Advances in Biomedical research have also involved the use of silicon derivatives which mimic live cells, and these have been introduced into living cells as functional molecules. The importance of silicones in research is only just being tapped and could have uses in other sectors.
The use of silicones in the medical sector over the past decades shows no sign of slowing, and the range of applications seems certain to expand in the years ahead.