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Shape-Shifting Gels Seek Medical Applications

Originally Published MPMN September 2002

INDUSTRY NEWS

Shape-Shifting Gels Seek Medical Applications

Norbert Sparrow

Phase-transition gels that are engineered to change form at a predetermined temperature were initially developed to make golf shoes more comfortable. But Foster-Miller Inc. (www.foster-miller.com), an engineering firm based in Waltham, MA, and Smart Materials (Norton, MA), a company that specializes in commercial applications of responsive materials, believe that the gels may have a higher calling.

The materials can be put to a variety of uses where a conformable fit is desired, notably medical devices, says Neil Goldman, senior vice president of Foster-Miller. He recently announced the two firms' decision to make Morph Gel technology available for exclusive field-of-use licenses.

Semiliquid gels can be programmed to become rigid at predetermined temperatures. Applications include face masks, wheelchair cushions, and prosthetic products.
In its initial semiliquid state, the gel readily conforms to the contours of the user. As it reaches the trigger temperature, the gel becomes rigid. It can be programmed to be either soft and comfortable or firm and supportive. Possible medical applications, according to Goldman, include sleep apnea masks, orthopedic and prosthetic devices, and wheelchair cushions. Goldman also speculates that the material may one day find use as a drug-delivery device. "The drug could be embedded within the gel," he says, "and by altering the formulation, drug release can be programmed over days or weeks."

One of the key properties of the material, Goldman stresses, is its versatility. When the thermal source is removed, the gel returns to its original state, ready for the next use. "The viscosity and transition temperature that can be programmed into the material are almost limitless," says Goldman. The gel will be especially useful in products that provide support, pressure relief, or pressure distribution, he adds.


For the Record

In our coverage of the 2002 winners of the Medical Design Excellence Awards (MDEA) in the May issue, a production error resulted in the publication of a photo showing only a partial view of one of the winning devices. The photo is shown here in its correct format. The UltraCision Harmonic Scalpel Generator 300 was entered by Plexus Technology Group Inc. (Neenah, WI) and Ethicon Endo-Surgery (Cincinnati) in the Surgical Equipment, Instruments, and Supplies category. The MDEA program is sponsored by Canon Communications LLC.

Copyright ©2002 Medical Product Manufacturing News

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