Did you know there’s a Heart Health Month? It’s February (surprised?), when we’re surrounded by heart-shaped candies, cookies, and Valentine’s Day cards. Given that we rely on a healthy heart regardless the month, it’s fortunate that innovations in heart care advance year round, year after year.
Of course, good heart health relies on many factors, such as diet and physical activity. But when our hearts need extra help, medical advances made possible by plastics can help deliver the often lifesaving medical care our loved ones and we need. Here are five remarkable recent heart health innovations made possible by plastics.
Healing a broken heart (at least the literal kind) may get a bit easier. Researchers are developing a flexible plastic patch that can help repair the damaged tissue caused by heart attacks. Since the patch doesn’t require stitches, it’s less invasive and potentially less damaging to the heart than other surgical methods. The patch is still undergoing testing, but researchers predict that it may one day help prevent arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and even aid in regenerating damaged heart tissue.
Heart surgeons have long treated blockages by implanting a stent—a device that expands a coronary artery and restores blood flow. But … either the patient has to go through another surgery to remove the stent, or the artery remains expanded permanently, which may not be ideal for a patient long-term. But thanks to medical plastics that dissolve over time, recently FDA-approved advanced stents do their job and then are adsorbed into the body—potentially improving quality of life for heart patients.
Heart in a Box
The primary method for transporting donor hearts is pretty simple: the organ is put on ice in an insulated container. The longer it remains outside a human body, the increased likelihood the tissue will become damaged. But a new plastic-based device known as “heart in a box” may change all that. This technology lets a donor heart continue beating, essentially keeping it “alive” from the time it’s removed from the donor to the time it’s transplanted. Researchers say the “heart in a box” could dramatically increase the availability of donor hearts.
Why is 3-D printing with plastics so revolutionary? In large part because it enables technicians in a range of industries to quickly and easily create fully customizable 3-D models. What if technicians could apply that technology to create an intricate plastic replica of a patient’s heart that surgeons could study in advance of an operation? It’s already happening. Surgeons today can use the plastic model to plan out details of the procedure before it even begins, reducing risk for the patient.
Heart surgeons often face a frustrating irony: sometimes the sickest patients—who need surgery the most—have been so weakened by their condition that surgery becomes too risky. But a new inflatable, balloon-like device made with plastics is helping improve the odds. After the device is implanted, doctors can inflate or deflate it as needed to control excess blood flow and relieve pressure on the heart. This technique can give a heart the chance to recover enough to withstand surgery.
We all know someone who’s been impacted by heart-related health problems, so it’s great to know that these and other cutting-edge medical innovations—many made possible by plastics—are helping our loved ones live longer, healthier lives. During Heart Health Month and beyond.