Israel’s medical device prowess goes on display in Haifa

A polymer that its maker says can preserve implants in the body longer will be just one of the technologies on display at MDDMI 2012

View of a hip with an implant made of MMATech's MP-1 material (Photo credit: Courtesy)
View of a hip with an implant made of MMATech's MP-1 material (Photo credit: Courtesy)

One of the blessings of modern medicine is the fact that more people are living longer. But as a result, their bodies face more wear and tear, and that’s why more surgery for physical injuries is being done today. Among the most common procedures are hip replacements, demand for which experts say is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, as the baby-boom populations of Western countries, especially the US, enter old age.

Hip replacement is an emotionally and physically exhausting procedure, and is all the more difficult when the patient is elderly and has other significant health problems. However, chances are that an individual who undergoes hip replacement — or surgery on the knee or wrist that includes implants to replace muscle or bone — will have to undergo the procedure again, because the materials currently used in such procedures tend to deteriorate after eight to ten years.

Enter Israel’s MMATech, which says it has developed a unique material for use in hip replacement and other operations: a tough, low-friction, wear- and cold- resistant polyimide that is compatible with the environment of the human body called MP-1. It’s a polymer (a type of plastic) originally made for jet engine bearings on spaceships, that will preserve implants — including dental implants — for longer than their current average lifespan in the body. MMATech has been working on MP-1 for over a decade, and the product has been patented.

MP-1, along with many other medical device innovations, will be on display this week at the third annual Conference and Exhibition for the Medical Device Design & Manufacturing Industry (MDDMI 2012), to take place in Haifa. Dozens of exhibitors will be showing off their innovative technology at the show, which has become one of the world’s premier medical device exhibitions. Sponsors include some of the biggest players in medical device technology, including Jaz Medical, Orbimed, and Kontron, and exhibitors include hundreds of companies, from start-ups to established tech firms, like Freescale, Oracle, Wind River, Suron, and many more.

Israel has become one of the major innovators in medical devices in recent years, according to Todd Dollinger, chairman and CEO of the Trendlines Group, an investment group based in northern Israel that runs the Misgav Venture Accelerator, which concentrates on developing medical device, pharma, and biotech start-ups.

“I remember once reading an article in Medical Device Daily, the ‘bible’ of the industry, that claimed that more than half of medical devices on the market had their origins in Israeli technology,” Dollinger told The Times of Israel in a recent interview. “At first I didn’t believe it, but after discussing it with my partner Steve Rhodes and doing an in-depth analysis, we realized they were probably right.”

How did Israel become such an important world center for medical devices? Besides the “Start-Up Nation”-style entrepreneurial spirit, said Dollinger, there were two other factors: The many Israelis and immigrants involved in the medical profession, and the country’s expertise in imaging systems developed for military purposes. “Israel is an acknowledged world leader in imaging, which is used for so many purposes, from satellite technology to security. But it is also the basis of many medical devices, which use various imaging techniques to diagnose and treat patients without the need for surgery.”

Many Israeli medical professionals have spent time abroad and have a keen sense of the needs of the market, so when they get home they seek out technology experts who can help them develop the products they’ve envisioned. The result? “Israel has everything needed to create a ‘perfect storm’ of creativity in the medical device area,” Dollinger said.

That prowess will be on display in Haifa next week. MMATech claims — based on clinical studies — that MP1 is resistant to deterioration in the body (where the implants it is made of are subject to high temperatures), do not wear out when in motion, and are resistant to chemicals in the body. Based on the studies, the company said, implants made out of MP-1 will last for over 25 years.

“Medical devices are among the most important of Israeli high-tech products, as far as the rest of the world is concerned,” Dollinger said. “Major players in the field are literally rushing to get involved in the Israeli market, and those that have not done so yet are busy formulating their ‘Israel strategy,’ seeking ways to partner with Israeli makers of medical devices.”

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