Campaigners hit back at a new plastic based mesh being developed in Sheffield that scientists say brings hope to women

Emily Downing-Smith, of Haddenham, is now a journalism student at Sheffield University. Here she wri

Emily Downing-Smith, of Haddenham, is now a journalism student at Sheffield University. Here she writes on the mesh implant scandal - Credit: Archant

Emily Downing-Smith, of Haddenham, is a second year journalism student at Sheffield University.

The 21 year old, former Witchford Village College pupil writes about the pelvic mesh implant scandal, after researchers at Sheffield announced a new material to replace polypropylene mesh, used to treat prolapse and incontinence in women.

However, campaigners say the so-called new wonder material, is made of polyurethane, which is still plastic and so far it has only been tested on a few chicken embryos.

Researchers say they have been working on the new material for six years as the polypropylene mesh sling implants, used widely in hospitals across Britain, is “frankly unacceptable.”

Scientists at the University of Sheffield have developed a ground-breaking new material which they hope could help thousands of women worldwide suffering pelvic organ prolapse or stress incontinence.

The current material used for mesh implants is polypropylene.

Corinda Daw, 52, a sales consultant from Harwich, Essex, had a mesh implant fitted in 2013 after childbirth left her with stress incontinence.

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She says the mesh left her in “physical and emotional pain” and had to use catheters for months.

“I live in fear of the mesh poisoning and degrading inside my body, I wish I never had it done - I would rather be incontinent.”

She is not alone. Julie Gilsenan, 41, a paramedic from Liverpool, had a mesh fitted 12 months ago, but like many others suffers agonising consequences.

“I’ve endured a catheter, self-catheterising, countless infections, loss of sex life, loss of career and a world of pain. I’m almost totally incontinent - and I’m one of the lucky ones.

“I’ve been lied to and used. And I want to future proof my daughter’s to never suffer like I have. Mesh has destroyed my life.”

Last month the Government announced an audit of all women who have undergone the surgery since 2005, in order to find out the scale of the complications.

Since then scientists at Sheffield say they have found a new material, polyurethane, which is closer to human tissue characteristically, and has the female hormone, estradiol, inserted into the mesh to speed up the healing process.

Professor Sheila MacNeil, professor of tissue engineering at University of Sheffield said: “Polyurethane has a lot more elasticity – when you stretch it, it bounces back. The current material is quite strong, but when you stretch it, it distorts.

“We have been doing the right operation but with a material that had never been designed to go into the female pelvic floor.”

Sheffield scientists have been working on the new material for six years, but many are still critical of it.

Kath Sansom, of Sling the Mesh campaign group which now has more than 5,500 members, said: “It is like a horrible case of Groundhog Day. Have they learnt nothing from the past and the devastation of polypropylene?

“The key word here is ‘poly’, which means it is still made of plastic, which is unstable and can change once implanted.”

However, Dr Naside Mangir, a urology surgeon who helped develop the material, said: “We sympathise with the sceptics, because they are suffering due to these mesh complications, but actually we are on the same side – we are working for them.

“Not all plastics are bad – not all of them are good, but you need to design and use them purposefully. When we can do this, they help save lives.”

Commenting on the announcement, Owen Smith, chairman of the APPG on surgical mesh implants, said: “Whilst I welcome new interventions to treat stress urinary incontinence and prolapse, I would urge great caution over the use of synthetic materials to treat these conditions.

“It is crucial that lessons are learnt from the use of polypropylene mesh and the life-changing complications women have experienced since undergoing surgery.

“This new material must undergo rigorous and strict clinical trials and should only be used if such complications can be ruled out.”