February 13, 2018 | Brianna Schaeffer

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Functionalizing Foams Used in Medical Applications


Many factors drive the advancements in wound care and the use of flexible materials in the medical field. Three major sectors are the aging population, increased incidences of type 2 diabetes, and emerging global economies. According to a new report published by Zion Market Research, global demand in the advanced wound care management product market is projected to grow at a rate of 6.4% through 2022. This will result in an estimated revenue of around $15.8 billion USD.

Flexible materials play a crucial role in many aspects of medical and surgical treatments and therapies. Already there exists a vast range of products in this arena. However, hindrances to growth in this market include the high cost of treatment and a reluctance to accept and implement the newer therapies.

When seen as an opportunity to improve outcomes while controlling costs, companies in this niche can compete by developing products and technologies that focus on the need for rapid healing. Innovations in material science continue and are necessary to ensure improved standards of care, including fewer infections, faster healing, and lower costs.


Foam Dressings

Foam dressings promote healing by creating a moist environment while protecting the wound from outside pathogens and contaminants. They are generally made from semipermeable polyurethane, meaning they are non-adherent, non-linting, and allow water vapor to enter but not bacteria. They are indicated for a variety of wound types:

  • abrasions
  • incisions
  • lacerations
  • pressure ulcers
  • infected wounds
  • draining peristomal wounds



  • non-adherent
  • serve as a cushion and protect the affected area
  • provide a barrier against bacteria
  • suitable for wounds with hypergranulation
  • may be used during compression therapy
  • easy to apply and remove



  • the wound may dry out if there is no or too little exudate to be absorbed
  • maceration of surrounding skin may occur if the dressing becomes saturated with exudate
  • not suitable for sinus tracts or third-degree burns



Drug Delivery via Foam Medical Devices

Biomedical engineers have gained new insights into the understanding of the physiological barriers to efficient drug delivery. The resulting advances in this research are technologies for delivering targeted and/or controlled release of therapeutic agents.

Two of the hurdles to overcome: unacceptable interactions with healthy tissues that are not the target of the drug, and the rate at which the drug is released.


New Methods of Drug Delivery

  • Pain management transdermal drug delivery was implemented as early as 1924, but when the FDA approved the administration of scopolamine using this method, a new market opened for transdermal delivery systems (TDDS). Today more than 35 TDD products are now approved for sale in the US, and approximately 16 active ingredients are approved for use globally.
  • Other transdermal therapies also administered via patch: testosterone, nicotine, estradiol, nitroglycerin, magnesium, contraceptives, and anti-depressants.
  • Tissue engineering an emerging technology, using a combination of cells, engineering materials (such as biomedical foams), and suitable biochemical factors to improve or replace body tissues.
  • Scaffolding similar in principle and composition to resorbable sutures, examples of these materials are collagen and some polyesters. They provide structure and stability until an implant of the body's own cells generates their own support, then they degrade and resorb.
  • Microneedle arrays - deliver medications through the skin, utilizing dozens of microscopic needles each far thinner than a strand of hair. Although they penetrate the skin, the tiny needles do their job painlessly because they do not reach the nerves in the skin. The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) is funding research for the development of a dime-sized patch with an array of dissolvable microneedles for vaccine delivery.



One thing is clear, with growing demand in the U.S. and abroad, the market for flexible materials in the medical field will continue to expand. And that will result in better outcomes for the manufacturers, suppliers, medical practitioners, and patients alike.


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