Heraeus Medical Components (HMC) is known for its state-of-the-art solutions delivered to the global medical device industry. The company boasts seven production sites across the USA, Europe, Asia, and Central America, designing and manufacturing key components for leading medical devices. Recently, Medgadget readers may have seen the keynote address at Medtec Europe delivered by HMC’s VP of Advanced Technologies, Jens Troetzschel.
Medgadget editor Tom Peach recently spoke with Dave Liebl from Heraeus to discuss some of the company’s innovative medical device products that assist surgeons every day.
Tom Peach, Medgadget: Please introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your role at Heraeus.
Dave Liebl, Heraeus: I am the Executive Vice-President of Finished Devices for Heraeus Medical Components (HMC), with a focus on the development of delivery and access devices that offer improved clinical utility in support of our Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) customer partners. I’ve worked in the industry for over 23 years, specializing in the development of a variety of clinical applications and products, with four patents for medical devices.
Medgadget: Could you please give our readers a general overview of some of the products Heraeus develops?
Dave Liebl: Heraeus Medical Components develops high-value products and solutions for medical device companies within the interventional and active device markets worldwide. We have a special focus on interventional procedures that enable access and delivery to the area of the body where clinical treatment is required. We also develop guidewires, delivery and support catheters, and delivery systems for products in most of the interventional disciplines of medicine. As a solutions provider to the medical device industry we do not distribute products into the end user market, but instead collaborate closely with our medical device customers and serve as a strategic partner and supplier.
Medgadget: So, why are guidewires in particular so important for modern surgery and acute medicine?
Dave Liebl: Thanks to technology breakthroughs, the medical profession has been able to move toward minimally invasive procedures – this lowers the cost of procedures and there is a strong patient preference for the more rapid recovery. Those procedures cannot be completed without the successful use of a guidewire since the therapeutic devices are designed to track over a guidewire to the treatment site. The guidewire is key, enabling the safe and reliable delivery of the device to the treatment area. The proper design of the guidewire is critical to reduce complications, shorten procedure times, and ensure a successful patient outcome. Heraeus is continually investigating options to improve the materials and designs available in this market to serve an even broader customer base.
Medgadget: What are some of the problems surgeons experience with current products?
Dave Liebl: Reaching and crossing the treatment site with a guidewire in a reasonable amount of time remains a challenge since guidewires tend to kink and/or lose their ability to be manipulated from outside the body when tortuous anatomy is encountered. The lubricity of the guidewire is also important for several reasons: the guidewire needs to slide through what is often a tight stricture at the treatment site; the therapeutic catheter needs to glide easily over the guidewire; and if necessary, the guidewire needs to be easily removed from the therapeutic catheter. The ease of mobility during the procedure is essential. Surgeons are always looking for ways to make minimally invasive incisions even smaller; hence the trend towards smaller diameter guidewires is growing. However, these smaller diameter guidewires must still exhibit the necessary performance required to successfully complete a procedure.
Medgadget: Heraeus presented a non-kinking guidewire at Medtec Europe in Stuttgart recently—could you tell me more about innovation behind this launch?
Dave Liebl: Given our clinical experience and expertise, we knew that in order to reduce the challenges of guidewire damage and kinking during procedures, a more kink-resistant material was ideal. However, available kink-resistant metals such as Nitinol are much softer than stainless steel and were not stiff enough to complete procedures. Innovation was necessary to solve an important clinical challenge.
Working with our partners we developed a patented guidewire using a stiffer alloy of Nitinol called “Triton®” that exhibits a significant improvement in stiffness compared to Nitinol and yet retains the kink resistance of Nitinol. This innovation addresses one of the remaining clinical challenges with guidewires used in minimally invasive procedures; it also allows Heraeus to offer smaller diameter guidewires that achieve the same performance of larger diameter Nitinol versions.
Medgadget: What about developments around other challenges for clinicians, including MRI compatibility?
Dave Liebl: MRI compatibility is becoming more important in today’s medicine and will grow in the coming years. We are working with partners on innovative ways for guidewires to be MRI compatible and yet have similar performance to the products of today. Also, Heraeus is constantly researching new ways to improve the working environment in hospitals, adding the necessary clinical expertise to benefit its customers in the medical device industry. At the moment, guidewires may heat up in MRI machines and also produce undesirable image artefacts. With new materials and approaches, clinicians would be able to work under a MRI and thereby protect themselves and patients from the constant exposure to x-rays used in common procedures.
Medgadget: What are the benefits for surgeons and patients of a guidewire can be used in an MRI?
Dave Liebl: One of the key benefits for MRI over Fluoroscopy is that Fluoroscopy is done with x-ray wavelengths, which is an ionizing radiation that is not ideal for patients, and remains especially challenging for the physicians who do these procedures each day. MRI involves magnetic fields, which are not potentially damaging (cancer causing) to human cells like excessive x-rays can be. Further, MRI has the benefit of finer resolution in human tissues and can therefore improve the precision of medical procedures as well. A good example of this is in Electrophysiology where specific ablation of heart tissues is used to stop irregular heart rhythms; MRI could potentially help improve the effectiveness of this treatment.
Medgadget: How long will it be before patients are experiencing the benefits of these new technologies?
Dave Liebl: No one in the industry has a “medical device crystal ball” to see into the future, but one of the things Heraeus Medical Components has been known for is our ability to accelerate our R&D work so that it moves from the research lab to the real world of treatment as fast as possible. Patients are already experiencing the benefit of products based upon the Triton® alloy in many disciplines of interventional medicine.
We are seeing great progress in our work with our OEM partners on new applications to meet the challenges of interventional medicine including the above mentioned MRI compatibility, tip location technologies that reduce the use of x-ray as well as intravascular imaging and sensing. This is an exciting time in medicine because physicians and surgeons are seeing how these new technology advancements are improving all aspects of treatment and care, and we’re focused on helping bring those innovations to market. When you have that type of industry synchronization in place, it removes barriers that slow down the pace of innovation.