This material could change the lives of women with vaginal mesh implants

Posted by
Emily Reynolds
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Newly developed material may prevent serious injuries in women undergoing surgery involving vaginal mesh. 

Thousands of women suffered life-changing pain after vaginal mesh implants caused them serious injury. But now scientists from the University of Sheffield say they’ve created a more flexible implant that more closely resembles human tissue – and could prevent injury altogether. 

Polyurethane fibres, most commonly used in furniture upholstery, will be used to create the new implants. 

“This whole area has suffered from a lack of research because the manufacturers denied there was a problem [with the original mesh devices] and patients weren’t listened to,” said Professor Sheila MacNeil, professor of tissue engineering in the department of materials science and engineering at the University of Sheffield.

“Now many millions of dollars have been paid out by mesh manufacturers in compensation, and many have stopped marketing products for this use, because there are so many side-effects. But then surgeons look round, there’s no new material to replace it.”

“I’m delighted other groups are developing these materials, the area needs more research and we ought to be one of twenty groups doing this,” she said.

Vaginal mesh implants are sometimes given to women whose pelvic muscles weaken after childbirth. This can often lead to prolapse – when pelvic organs including the uterus, bowl and bladder push into the vagina. Thousands of women across the UK have had the procedure performed.

Research suggests that one in ten women experience complications with the implants, which sometime cut into the vaginal wall.  Some women have experienced infections and serious pain; others have been left disabled or even died. 

But campaigners against vaginal mesh implants told The Independent that plastic implants should not be used at all. 

“Poly- is key here,” Kath Sansom, founder of campaign group Sling the Mesh, said. “Whether it is polypropylene or polyurethane, it is plastic which does not belong in a human body never mind in a woman’s vagina which is a clean, uncontaminated field.”

“Plastic is not inert which means it can change once implanted. It can shrink, twist degrade and it is that which is catastrophic once inside women’s bodies.”

Image: iStock