February 28, 2018
A plastic used in mattresses, car parts and packing foam is a safer alternative to today’s mesh for women who suffer incontinence or organ prolapse after childbirth, scientists say.
The current “gold standard” of care is a net-like vaginal mesh made from polypropylene plastic, a material linked to complications. The new mesh would be made from polyurethane plastic.
But is swapping out one plastic for another really going to make women safer?
Scientists at the University of Sheffield in the U.K. think so.
Today’s mesh is blamed for vaginal scarring, vaginal erosion, painful sex, infections and vaginal bleeding, among other complications. Manufacturers use it in household goods, carpets and food containers.
Scientists say a new mesh made with polyurethane and coated in a female hormone called oestrogen will be safer. And they point to seven years of data and testing to back their study’s findings.
“We have shown through our research that [polyurethane] does not provoke inflammation and retains its strength and elasticity. The addition of oestrogen is a major breakthrough as we have proved its beneficial effects in regenerating pelvic tissue,” Sheila MacNeil, Professor of Tissue Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said in a press release.
But, a closer look at the study shows scientists are several years away from a product that can be reasonably marketed.
To begin with, scientists did these tests on cultured cells and tissues in a lab, not in real women. And while oestrogen could promote healing, it has risks. These risks include breast and uterine cancer, stroke, heart attack and blood clots.
Right now, polyurethane is already in use for a number of medical applications, including catheters, hospital tubing, surgical drapes and bedding, according to the American Chemistry Council.
But, polyurethane hasn’t proven to be quite so safe in all medical applications.
For example, some studies found polyurethane in catheters breaks down over time. A 2015 review found polyurethane coating on breast implants is potentially toxic and disintegrates over time.
Mesh-injured women are skeptical and enraged about the idea of a new plastic implant. As women on Twitter told Drugwatch: “Plastic is plastic.”
Women suffering from prolapse and incontinence are in real need of safe, effective treatment options. Scientists should come up with a good solution.
But, so far, it doesn’t look like placing a potentially toxic, cancer-causing plastic through the vagina is the way to go.