Ever since the invention of sticking plaster, plaster casts and operating-theatre apparel, if not before, the textile industry has made an important contribution to the healthcare business. From the dialogue that has gone on between the two sectors, we can, in future, expect high-tech ‘replacement parts’, rehabilitation technology suitably adapted to the needs of patients, and functional textiles with built-in, self-activating emergency alarms for the elderly.
The history of medical textiles reaches far back to the time of the Pharaohs. Woven bandages for wounds were as common as the use of linen for sutures. The industrial production of surgical cotton in Germany began in 1871; in 1882, Beiersdorf acquired a patent for sticking plaster. In the 50s of the last century, science began to make use of the fact that the human blueprint was not short of fibres: muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, skin and organs – all tissue.
Expectations are high for new fibre-based products that can be used in medical treatments and therapeutic care, on the one hand, and for revenue potential, on the other. Trade and professional visitors involved in the medical and health-care business can look forward to a range of new fibre-based research findings, together with the solutions that derive from them. Areas of application include hospitals, rehabilitation and care institutions and / or the care of the elderly in their homes.
Highly specialized medical textiles not only open up new possibilities, with regard to transplantation medicine. Examples here might be textile dressings with built-in sensors, new kinds of bronchial stent and portable artificial lungs with core elements made from textiles. Fiber-based innovations are of huge importance for an ageing generation – above all, in situations where clothing with smart-textile components can measure vital parameters and environmental influences and channel the data in the right direction.
Embroidery techniques were used to create modular networks of sensors applied to textile and non-textile substrates. The modular networks were then connected up to create functional monitoring systems. Textile-based sensoric networks like this can be incorporated in dressings around wounds, so as to record real-time physiological parameters, providing objective data that might indicate any disruption to the healing process. Such continuous monitoring, say the researchers, also makes it possible to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the relevant parameters surrounding the wound. In a similar way, it should also be possible to record people’s vital parameters in leisure activities and sports, or to monitor the functioning of implants.