The scenes from hospitals all around the world have been sobering: overloaded intensive care units, healthcare workers covered from head to toe in personal protective equipment (PPE), long lines of people waiting for treatment or testing. Beyond medical centers, we saw that life had also changed elsewhere. Streets, shops, and restaurants were quiet—if not deserted—and those who were out were wearing masks.
While the pandemic has changed life in the short term, it has given us an opportunity to improve medicine and prepare society for the next viral infection, the rising tide of chronic illnesses, and the shift to connected medicine. Advanced materials are already being used to help medicine adapt to the challenges wrought by COVID-19, but their importance will only increase in the years to come.
Facing the Current Crisis
A novel contagious pathogen, such as the coronavirus, spreads rapidly through the population, overburdening hospitals and increasing the need for treatments. As of the beginning of January 2021, over 90 million people worldwide have contracted the virus, and nearly 2 million people have lost their lives—and the numbers keep rising.
Universal mask wearing is one of the best things the public can do to keep transmission to a minimum, and that may become a social norm even after this virus has passed. PPE makers are already running full tilt, and the market will continue to grow, reaching a projected $33.4 billion by 2027.1 While masks get all the attention, coveralls and gowns account for a much larger slice (45.7%) of the healthcare PPE market—and all types of PPE will remain a common sight throughout the healthcare industry. And large numbers of consumers, motivated by the threat of infection now or in the future, are likely to continue to use PPE whenever they leave the house. Many governments were caught short by this outbreak and will invest in building stockpiles of PPE to cope with future threats. Fortunately, fluoropolymers like Teflon™ increase the durability and life span of PPE and can keep medical professionals and the general public safe.
We’ll be better prepared for the next pathogen.
But first we have to get through this one, and to do that, we need more testing and, eventually, a vaccine. Krytox™ performance lubricants seal test kits so that unwanted bacterial growth doesn’t inhibit accurate test results. And Teflon™ AF gas-separation membranes make accurate testing possible in the first place. As for vaccines, a safe, effective one has been discovered and billions of doses will need to be produced and distributed. Fluoropolymers play a central role here too. It’s no use investing billions in a vaccine if the individual doses cannot be kept pure, and Teflon™ films on the underside of vaccine vial stoppers can keep this precious lifesaver pure and effective.
Shifting Healthcare Needs
The vaccine, one hopes, will end this coronavirus outbreak once and for all, but there will be lasting impacts. Severe COVID-19 is a debilitating illness, even for those who survive. Many are left with long-term lung damage, acute kidney injury, or even neurocognitive defects. That only adds to the world’s growing burden of chronic illnesses. People are living longer and in denser conditions. As more people emerge from subsistence living, often relocating to urban environments, rates of heart disease, asthma, and high blood pressure rise with them. They’ll need more surgeries and more pharmaceuticals, and fluoropolymers are essential ingredients in both due to their resistance to chemicals, biological inertness, heat stability, and low coefficient of friction. Teflon™ coats catheter guidewires and helps provide precise dosages of inhaled medication. Anesthesia, stress testing, ventilators, and asthma monitoring all depend on the selective permeability of chemical- and therma-resistant Nafion™ oxygen membranes. These membranes also make possible the tools scientists use to advance biotech and discover and manufacture new drugs.
The Coming World of Connected Healthcare
Then there are the changes coming to medicine itself. The pandemic has shown us the potential of greater connectivity in health care. Telemedicine is here to stay, presuming pay models can be worked out, and with that comes an even greater need for electronic health records systems.2 Such systems are just one part of a coming healthcare cloud. Healthcare providers are just beginning to make use of cloud computing, 5G networks, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and the Internet of Medical Things, and Teflon™ makes that all possible.3 Its unique electrical properties, high-heat resistance, and centrality to semiconductor manufacture provide the bedrock on which the world of wearable medical technology and connected medicine will rise.
Nafion™, Krytox™, Teflon™, and other advanced materials made by Chemours are essential parts of preserving the health and well-being of our fellow humans. Chemours’ unique knowledge of fluoropolymers and skill at developing unique solutions can help us cope with the COVID-19 crisis, reduce the burden of chronic illness, prepare ourselves for future infectious assaults, and usher in a new era of connected medicine. While this is a difficult time for all of us, the actions we are taking to battle this pandemic and prepare the global medical system for future challenges to human health will help reduce suffering and save lives in the future.