The Magnetic Force in Medicine: Integrating Magnets Safely into Medical Devices

The Magnetic Force in Medicine: Integrating Magnets Safely into Medical Devices

The University of California at San Francisco’s Surgical Innovations program is working with ProPlate to develop advanced magnet electroplating for medical devices.

From cardiovascular disease to cancer to gastrointestinal tract conditions, the incredible strength of neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) rare earth magnets is opening up exciting new opportunities for surgeons and engineers working on the cutting edge to bring new care options to patients with tough-to-treat conditions. As with any new technology, however, incorporating NdFeB magnetic elements into sophisticated new medical devices requires utmost care during development and manufacturing. Engineers must ensure that such devices can be used while maintaining an incredibly high level of safety—for patients as well as for the doctors and nurses who care for them.

ProPlate recently hosted a wide-ranging discussion with members of the University of California at San Francisco’s Surgical Innovations program to explore the inside story on the drive to find new and better ways to treat children born with the highly debilitating congenital malformation known as esophageal atresia. This effort has given rise to a groundbreaking new category of devices leveraging magnetic force and precision-engineered tissue-contacting surface architectures. The partnership with ProPlate has been a key element in progressing this device development program to the stage where multiple patients have now been treated for esophageal atresia—with exceptionally favorable results.
In a highly productive collaboration that kicked off last year, the UCSF Surgical Innovations program, one of the country’s premier medical institutions, and our team at Minnesota-based medical device specialty manufacturer ProPlate have been working closely together to develop advanced NdFeB magnet electroplating methods optimized for medical devices to prevent corrosion of potentially toxic elements.

Magnets have been used in surgery for quite a long time and have found very important applications in some specialized areas, but there are many challenges with magnets. For instance, many materials that have favorable properties from the standpoint of magnetic force are toxic to the human body. So the magnets have to be encapsulated in something that is going to withstand the corrosive environment within the human gastrointestinal tract. These devices need to be engineered to withstand all of the different types of environments that can be encountered in the gastrointestinal tract.

The manufacturing process for making NdFeB magnets involves a sintering process that results in a highly porous surface. The electroplating challenge was to provide a corrosion resistant surface, increased mechanical strength to the fragile sintered magnet, and perfectly pore-free coverage to the highly porous magnet surface.
With all this knowledge of how magnets can be safely incorporated into medical devices, the future for this field is boundless. –
tel.: +39 0293566034