Neodymium magnets are familiar from wind turbines, electric cars and headphones, among other things, but there are also applications in medicine.
About 200-250 children per year are born in Germany with a malformation of the esophagus. Instead of a continuous hollow organ connecting the mouth and stomach, esophageal atresia results in two so-called blind sacs at an early stage of embryonic development. Saliva and food cannot enter the stomach. Newborns with this malformation must be artificially fed and operated on as quickly as possible. The blind sacs are opened and sewn together. If the blind sacs are more than five centimeters apart, the already complex procedure becomes even more complicated. The two ends must be brought together under tension and joined in another operation. In addition to the stress of the extra surgery, scarring and narrowing of the esophagus can also occur, which may require repeat surgeries.
Researchers at Dr. von Hauner’s Children’s Hospital at LMU Klinikum led by Professor Dr. Oliver Muensterer and Prof. Michael Harrison’s research group at the University of California in San Francisco are therefore working on a gentler and simpler procedure to treat the young patients. Using a minimally invasive key technique, the blind bags are brought together and sutured. However, unlike the conventional procedure, they are not opened. By suturing, the tension decreases over the following weeks. Using an endoscopic procedure, the doctors also insert magnets with a diameter of eight millimeters into both blind sacs. They are made of neodymium, which is coated with a layer of gold and additionally surrounded by a plastic capsule. The magnets have a curved shape, thus compressing the tissue between them and dissolving it in one to two weeks. As a result, the desired continuous connection of the two blind sacs is created, while the surrounding tissue can continue to grow in peace and without constriction or scarring, as Prof. Muensterer explains. Once the connection is in place, the body excretes the magnets, and no further surgery is needed to remove them.
The procedure has been used on four newborns so far. A company is now being sought to manufacture the magnets commercially. Since the malformation is relatively rare, commercialization is not worthwhile for medical device companies, Prof. Muensterer said. In the meantime, however, one is in contact with a company, as the physician told Bild München. Many babies could therefore be spared complicated interventions in the future.
Photo: iStock/Narongrit Sritana