Engineer Spotlight: Cortland Biomedical’s José Nuñez Discusses Innovative Advancements in Biomedical Textile Development

Cortland Biomedical Engineering Manager José Nuñez discusses how the capabilities of the biomedical textile industry have evolved during his 30+ years in the field.

Can you tell us about your background?

I joined Cortland Biomedical this year, bringing over 40 years of textile engineering experience, including pivotal roles with industry giants like Boston Scientific, Acorn, Spineology, and Bard. With a bachelor’s degree from Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences, I aim to enhance our New Product Development team’s expertise.

My professional journey started in regular textiles, working with wedding dresses, uniforms and other garments. In search of new and better opportunities, I transitioned to the medical industry in 1987, focusing on knitting and weaving development for medical applications.  Back in the mid-90s, using an early version of an electronic loom, I worked on the first endovascular/aortic grafts that were implanted using catheters. This enabled an alternative to traditional open-heart surgery. Interestingly, some of my peers on that project are now my colleagues again at Cortland Biomedical!

What breakthroughs have most advanced implantable biomedical textiles taken over the course of your career?

Over the years, newer techniques emphasizing precision, scalability, and customization have accelerated the creation of intricate textile structures. The advent of cutting-edge machines and technologies has been pivotal. For example, weaving machines’ mechanical jacquard used a punch card to transfer instructions to the machine. Now, a Human-Machine Interface (HMI) controls everything, making it about 100x faster to make changes from one pattern to the next. What used to take 3-5 days to make a change, now takes only a few hours. You used to need 10 sets of punch cards to make 10 sizes, now you have one file that you can use for an almost infinite range of sizes. It’s also much faster to identify and correct errors, which allows for more overall precision. This shift from punch cards to computer-controlled systems allows us to create more complex structures faster, catering better to patient needs while reducing costs.

Newer looms have worked out the kinks of the early looms I worked on. For example, they’ve improved the electronics in the head to reduce errors and prevent overheating, and optimized how yarns are selected for weaving. I’m proud to say that Cortland Biomedical has the latest state-of-the-art looms.

Advancements enabling the use of finer yarns have facilitated less invasive procedures. Processes once reliant on 70-80 denier yarns now utilize 10-20 denier yarns, allowing for smaller, more intricate grafts with stents.

What engineering aspects are considered in designing implantable textiles?

Selecting the right yarn is crucial. Polyesters and ePTFE are commonly used due to their compatibility with the body. Precision in material choice is critical; adverse reactions in animal studies have taught us to stick with materials that provide the best patient experience.

Understanding fabric requirements such as stretch is also vital. Collaborative efforts between our customers and across internal departments allow us to establish unique fabric properties for specific applications.

When handling materials, it’s important to consider its unique properties and what its purpose in the body will be. For example, some materials — such as certain scaffolds – are intended to be biodegradable and resorb in the body over time. They may require more delicate handling than, say, polyester, which has the longevity to last in the body permanently.  When using different biomedical textiles, it’s important to have a rigorous cleaning process to ensure there is no cross-contamination when switching materials.

How Does Cortland Help Customers Navigate Regulatory Requirements?
Because we work so collaboratively with our customers, we’re able to align our processes, equipment, and materials with their compliance needs for safe and effective medical use.

What have you found most interesting so far at Cortland Biomedical?
What attracted me to join Cortland Biomedical is the breadth and range of its capabilities — including weft and warp knitting, weaving, yarn processing, and finishing of fabrics in order to make products OEM use in implantable devices.  The speed of innovation here is incredibly exciting. By incorporating advanced technologies and a uniquely collaborative approach, Cortland Biomedical strives to innovate and ensure the safety and efficacy of implantable biomedical textiles in the human body.  I’m proud to be a part of the Cortland Biomedical Engineering Team.