Techtextil showcases the latest products and therapeutic progress in textiles
Techtextil showcases the latest products and therapeutic progress in textiles
Against the background of demographic change, the textile sector, like a number of others, finds itself increasingly under pressure for ever more research in the field of health and healthcare. The reason for this lies in the medical-technology industry, which uses high-tech textiles to keep patients and older people mobile and is constantly discovering new potential. At the top of the list of relevant research needs in the field of textiles are fitted clothing and bandages with adjustable resistance to movement and pre-defined angles as well as ‘smart’ materials to create artificial muscles and exoskeletons.
Nowhere in the world is the contribution of textiles to the maintenance of human health and mobility greater than in Germany. Taking care of this are the medical research establishments as well as medium-sized manufacturers of implants, rehabilitation technology, orthoses and prostheses. All the major representatives of the sector will be bringing their latest innovations to this year’s Techtextil, the international trade fair for technical textiles and nonwovens, from 11 to 13 June in Frankfurt am Main.
Nerve growth scaffolds minimise accident injuries
One of the latest projects at the Institute for Textile and Process Engineering (ITV) in Denkendorf involves mobility, or more specifically, the degree to which human limbs are available to do their job. It is about research into nerve growth scaffolds, which are intended to accelerate the regeneration of nerve tissue following crush injuries or cuts. The new technique is based on high-porosity, absorbable, spun fibre fleeces that have been developed in Denkendorf to help regenerate cartilage tissue. They have the potential to help severed nerves grow back more quickly. Up until now, severed nerve fibres grew back ‘wildly’, i.e. not channelled in one direction, and thus took a long time. With the innovation from Denkendorf – a kind of sheath for the bundle of nerve fibres – it is thought that, one day, the functionality of the affected limb will be able to be restored far more quickly than has so far been possible.
Lots of new developments ensure progress in care provision and mobility
As a result of integrated micro-sensors and electrically conductive polymers in clothing, for example, medical textiles can help to monitor the vital parameters of clinical patients and others in need of care. When we look at prostheses and orthoses, it is clear that through the combination of textile and non-textile materials, very considerable progress is within reach. Three-dimensional, knitted spacer fabrics offer the foundations for the development of new, lighter and easier to wear protectors, which can, at the same time, minimise bumps and bruises. The integration of measuring and stimulation functions into textiles will create new opportunities to include a variety of traditional sensor systems like ECG and temperature monitoring into clothing worn next to the skin. The Thuringia-Vogtland Textile Research Institute (Textilforschungsinstitut Thüringen-Vogtland – TITV) is doing pioneering work in this field. In addition, conductive textiles next to the body offer the possibility of heating just very specific points or, by including flexible sensors in the fabric, to monitor the pressure of compression stockings and bandages. When integrated into bandages, textile electrodes signal the demise of traditional stick-on electrodes, as a way of stimulating, for example, the upper-leg muscles.
The results of some European research (Blue Touch Pad project) targets the restoration of mobility lost
as a result of back pain. The product, already marketed for a year by Phillips, is the result of an on-going EU project, with the Thuringia-Vogtland Textile Research Institute in Greiz as partners, and involves the use of blue LED light. For the electrical contact, the point light sources use a conductive base weave, which fits closely to the body. The blue light from the wearable therapeutic device has a pain-reducing effect and is an alternative to the corresponding drug therapy. It causes the liberation of nitrogen monoxide molecules in the body. These pass into the lower layers of the skin and are transported to the painful muscle, causing it to relax.
Scientist at the Hohenstein Institute are also contributing to ‘mobility’ – in the sense of keeping people alive – with their recently developed innovative cooling pads designed to reduce body temperature in patients suffering from cardiac arrest. Wrapping patients in a new kind of hypothermic emergency jacket is said to help to avoid neurological damage after successful resuscitation. Parts of the brain can already suffer long-term damage as a result of ischemia and lack of oxygen during the period before the emergency doctor arrives. This not infrequently leads to a need for longer-term care in those affected. If, however, the body temperature is brought down to around 32 to 34 degrees centigrade,
the brain can be better protected from irreparable damage.
The prototype treatment system that is on display is based on these findings. It works without electricity and is therefore particularly suited to first-aid treatment of cardiac arrest. The cooling pads consist of an air and water-tight, hollow-woven textile. They are linked to a metal canister containing a special mineral (Zeolith) under a vacuum. As soon as the valve between them is opened, the water in the pads is immediately cooled to almost freezing point. As a result, the patient loses a great deal of body heat very fast. In the future, these self-sustaining cooling pads will be fitted with modern mobile defibrillators (with automatic ECG analysis) and be used, for example, in public places and public transport by first-aiders who do not have specialist medical knowledge.
As a special device for immobilising limbs, The Chemnitz Textile Research Institute in Saxony (Sächsisches Textilforschungsinstitut Chemnitz -STFI) has developed a new kind of cooling sleeve. With controlled cooling, it accelerates the reduction of swellings in, for example, the elbow or the ankle, lessens the pain and can shorten the amount of time a patient must remain immobile. The cooling elements are formed with automatically controllable cooling tubes integrated in the
high-elasticity sleeve, which fits snugly to the patient’s body. This innovation is fitted under the plaster cast. Major areas of application are accident surgery as well as sports injuries and veterinary medicine.
A very promising area is being opened up by the development of a therapeutic electrical stimulus corset at the Textile Research Institute in Saxony (STFI). The one-piece body sock works rather like a lumbar bandage with appropriately designed, integrated textile surface electrodes which can directly transmit therapeutic electric shocks / signals to various treatment zones. The functions of this stimulant ‘body suit’ can be regulated individually according to the treatment objectives – in rehabilitation (e.g. orthopaedics, heart insufficiencies) in medical prevention (body training, hypertension) as well as in the field of wellness / fitness. Other medical applications such as ECG, pulse measurement etc. can be achieved with only minimal modifications.
Given the frequently time-consuming clinical studies and medical authorisations that are required, it is in the nature of the game that today’s research on medical textiles will inevitably target the needs and markets of the next decade. So it is no surprise to learn that Professor Stefan Jockenhövel of the Institute of Textile Technology at Aachen University (RWTH) sees the current Pulmo Stent Project as something which will not find application in clinical situations until the next decade. The textile stent device, which has been developed under the aegis of an EU project by experts from several countries, is intended to be a transplant for lung cancer patients. Because the stent is colonized by the patient’s own cells and thus has its own self-cleansing mechanism, it should be able to hold the bronchial tubes open longer than traditional stents. In this way, say the scientists, the narrowing of the airways should be able to be kept at bay as long as the re-growth of tumours can.
Background picture: Source – ITA/RWTH