Medical inventions have improved at a pace that, while taken for granted now, is historically remarkable. The human body with all of its complexities, ranging from unknown nerve bundles down to gene triggers and allergen responses, still responds well to several simple, yet innovative medical techniques and interventions.
Arterial Stents and Tubing
One of those simple medical inventions that saves lives is a simple tubing extrusion. These can be thought of as very narrow soda straws, made of a higher grade of plastic. They’re threaded into collapsed arteries and veins to regulate blood flow in patients. Each channel in a tube is called a lumen, and multilumen extrusion products are used to alter the cross sectional profile or regulate the blood flow. Extrusions like this are sometimes left in to allow easy injection ports for medicines, and they’re critical to insulin pumps and other timed drug release systems.
Although a basic invention, hypodermic syringes changed the face of medical care as we know it. One of the first medical syringes we are aware of was created in the 1850s by French vet Charles Gabriel Pravaz and the Scottish doctor Alexander Wood. Syringes at this time used barrels made from metal rather than glass, but they eventually switched over. Today syringes are critical for the delivery of medicines and liquids directly into the bloodstream. The majority of our operations would be dramatically different without this basic invention.
Timed Release Implants
Timed release implants contain a reservoir of a drug, and a small quartz crystal clock; every interval set with the device releases another dose of the drug. This type of product is used for chemotherapy delivery and, increasingly, for other drugs where exact dosages over time are difficult to administer.
Artificial Skin Grafts
Artificial skin grafts have saved thousands of lives since their introduction in 1981. They consist of a two part structure; one encourages the body to grow new skin cells, and then dissolves; the other is a peel-away silicon layer that protects the growing skin, and peeled away when the epidermal cells need to be seeded.
Laparoscopes and Laparoscopic Surgery
A laparoscope is, functionally, a remote controlled camera on the end of a fiber optic cable, and with a built in LED light. It can be threaded through blood vessels and into the lungs. When combined with ultrasonic devices or a small laser, it can be used to break up kidney stones or gall stones, or break up blockages in arteries or veins. Laparoscopic procedures typically require a small (tenth of an inch or smaller) incision to put the probe in.
While the iconic use of ultrasonic imagers is in prenatal care to get the first picture of an unborn child, these devices are also used to get pictures of blood flow through tissues, identifying blood clots. Unlike X-rays, ultrasound imaging systems don’t bombard the subject with ionizing radiation, and they give real time images, allowing the physician to see how organs are moving under observation.
These medical devices, simple as they are, have reduced the cost and increased the accuracy of diagnosis of nearly every condition a doctor can detect in the body without blood tests. They’ve also sped up patient recovery times immensely. Functionality doesn’t always mean complexity.