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Polymer International 46 (1998) 161È162
Polymers for Biomedical
Biomedical implants serve as the last resort to solve difficult and chronic
medical problems. Severe damage to an organ or tissue by disease or trauma
usually precludes natural tissue repair without surgical intervention. Inadequately repaired tissue damage results in chronic pain, loss of function and
degeneration. Successful use of materials in medicine and surgery
(biomaterials) have saved thousands of lives and improved the quality of life
of many patients.
The use of biomaterials comes from ancient history : the origin of prosthetic substitutions dates back to Greek mythology. Ovid in the Metamorphoses talking about the sacriÐce of Pelope mentions for the Ðrst time a
prosthetic substitution : “A shoulder already eaten by Demetry was substituted
with an ivory joint . . .Ï. Di†erent materials of organic and inorganic origin,
were used by the Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese people thousands of
years ago. At the beginning of this century synthetic polymers were available
in a variety of compositions, properties and forms. Their ability to be tailored to the desired properties of the implant far exceeds that of metals or
Plastics in biomedical applications is one of the fastest growing areas in
polymer science and it is a highly interdisciplinary Ðeld, where the traditional sciences (chemistry and physics) are connected to the more modern
engineering sciences (chemical, mechanical and biomedical) to solve human
health problems.
The biomedical applications of polymers in the body range from “nose to
toeÏ. Silicones are used in ophthalmology and for nose, ear and breast
implants ; polyurethane elastomers for artiÐcial hearts, pacemaker coatings
and catheters ; PMMA is generally used for lenses (contact and intraocular)
and bone cements ; PET and PTFE are used for vascular, ligament and
abdominal prostheses ; PE is used for acetabular cups and catheters ; hydrophilic polymers for lenses (contact and intraocular), drug release systems,
catheter coatings and viscosurgery ; PGA and PLLA are used as bidegradable systems for suture, and plates in orthopaedic and maxillo-facial applications.
A major problem with polymers for biomedical applications has arisen
from the fact they many companies supplying materials for medical devices
have reduced, and in some cases stopped, producing polymers for medical
devices manufacturer, due to previous problems connected with breast and
other implants.
This critical situation has, therefore inÑuenced the structure of this special
topic issue of Polymer International which is devoted to the problems
encountered with some polymers and the synthesis of new polymers for biomedical applications.
( 1998 SCI. Polymer International 0959È8103/98/$17.50
Printed in Great Britain
I hope that this selection of papers, from some of the best known research
groups in the world, gives an interesting contribution in this particular and
important Ðeld. Many thanks go to the authors of the various papers for
their excellent contributions and to Dr M. Purbrick for his advice during the
organisation of this special issue.
Dr Luigi Ambrosio
Guest Editor,
Institute of Composite Materials Technology,
National Research Council,
and Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Biomaterials (CRIB),
Piazzale Tecchio 80,
80125, Naples,
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