While surgical blades and scalpels are among the most common and simple surgical devices, their handling, use and disposal can be problematic. In addition, the disposal process for one-use SS blades is quite expensive. European researchers set out to develop a process for manufacturing high-quality disposable polymer-based surgical blades with funding of the Disblade project. Their ultimate goal was to enhance surface sharpness by 40 % compared to existing SS blades and to demonstrate stiffness, sharpness and wear resistance comparable to that of SS blades. Additionally, a novel hot plate disposal system would make the blade ‘sharp safe’ in less than a second within the operating theatre itself, greatly simplifying the disposal process. Disblade scientists successfully developed an industrial process for surface hardening of polymers and polymer blends for which a patent has been filed. The process relied on softening of the surface using supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2), incorporating a ceramic pre-cursor into the surface and reacting the materials to form a ceramic-polymer hybrid surface. It increased surface hardness and scratch resistance facilitating polishing of a sharp edge for precise and minimally destructive incisions. An all-polymer scalpel handle and non-removable blade design was produced. The design incorporated production via standard injection moulding techniques not applicable to SS components. It also eliminated the need for fitting the blade to the scalpel and removing it for destruction, significantly reducing safety risks. In addition, a simplified disposal system within the operating room made the blade itself safe within a second. The Disblade consortium successfully manufactured polymer-based scalpel handles with non-removable blades demonstrating equal or superior characteristics to conventional SS blades. Numerous advantages included cost-effective injection moulding of parts, elimination of the need for fitting and removal of blades, and inexpensive disposal. With well organised and effective educational campaigns directed at the medical community, Disblade’s technology could have significant impact on the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the surgical blade sector.
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