On July 5, 2018 CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) has published the results of an extremely interesting research about traceability for medical implants.
The study had been carried out by a team of researchers from Aix-Marseille Université and Université Paris 13, and it has demonstrated how molecular labelling can unambiguously identify biomedical implants even after a prolonged period inside a living being.
The journey of biomedical implants is undoubtedly peculiar. It begins with the creation of the materials they are made of and goes on through a particularly delicate supply chain until they are placed inside a living being and become parts of their body.
For this reason, being able to trace every step of their supply chain is extremely important.
There are many different reasons why medical implants should always be fully traceable, but one in particular concerns both patients and health professionals: in case of medical malpractice and a health scandal, it is often crucial to determine the origin of adulterated implants in order to correctly assess responsibilities.
In most cases, medical implants are supposed to help patients in their suffering and offer a better lifestyle, and that is why doctors are always trying to make sure that they are using the best possible products. When a medical implant is defective, it often has to be removed: this is a major concern for the involved health professionals, a terrible experience for the patient, and an expensive burden on health systems.
Unfortunately, if the packaging of the implant has not been properly stored, it is quite difficult to authenticate an implant – and traceability becomes much more complicated if the product has remained in a body for a prolonged period.
That is why different teams from CNRS decided to cooperate in order to develop an innovative solution which could chemically label implants at the molecular level.
The key to the new method is using polymers, which are large molecules composed of two basic subunits. The connections which link these units form a structure that can be read as a code not too different from the binary code we use in computing.
In order to identify an implant, the mass of each polymer fragment is analysed using a chemistry method known as spectrometry – thanks to this process, the “code” can be identified and decrypted just as a bar code.
This kind of molecular labels have already been applied to model implants in small quantities, and researchers found out that the identification polymer could be decoded unequivocally even three months after the insertion of the implant in a living organism.
Since this identification method could be easily applied to other industries, the results of this research could be the beginning of a groundbreaking stage in the evolution of traceability. Molecular labels could help us prevent counterfeiting and provide long-lasting information about the supply chain behind a single product, giving us the opportunity to access data even long after the act of purchasing.