Lizards shed their tail in order to distract predators and it regrows later. When a tarantula loses its legs, it is genetically equipped to grow a new one. Compared to these animals, the regenerative capacity of humans is quite limited. Broken bones, skin and tissue damage may heal, but when it comes to losing whole body parts and functions, the human organism cannot heal itself.
When organs fail, the patient invariably requires a donor transplant in order to ensure survival. However, what happens when a suitable donor organ is not available? Researchers all over the world are working on the development of artifcial organs and prosthetics that will improve the patients’ quality of life. Their development relies on high-performance functional materials that are not rejected by the human organism. Many polymer materials have the perfect properties for medical purposes.
Plastics have been established as medical materials for a long time, not only in the production of dentures. Lenses made from acrylic glass revolutionised ophthalmology and artifcial corneas are now made from plastic. The use of plastic cannulae, infusion and blood bags or disposable syringes has minimised the risk of infection. Artifcial heart valves, artifcial joints and blood vessels, as well as many other implants, are also made from plastics.
The ultimate challenge is to manufacture a plastic heart that is virtually identical to the real organ in size, form and function. Outstanding achievements have already been presented in the feld of orthopaedics. Plastics support the abdominal wall, correct deformities such as calcaneal spur and improve or even partially replace the function of mobile body parts such as hip or knee joints. Plastic prosthetics and orthoses take over or replace the body parts’ main functions. Experts are currently discussing the potential advantages of athletes with carbon fbre prosthetics over those without disabilities. K 2019 will also present top polymer achievements.