The next time you blow out your ACL, you may be surprised to learn that the surgeon won’t be using titanium screws, but rather bovine metatarsals.
The most valuable parts of its cows are the inedible parts: pituitary glands, bones, heart muscles and hides. Medical companies covet them for making surgical glue, bone screws, collagen and artificial skin.
As the engineers of the medical world, surgeons use various materials to rebuild the human body. For many years, reconstructive surgery has involved the use of metals like titanium in pins, screws and other parts. In recent years, however, surgeons have moved toward using biological tissue implants. Human tissue is the preferred material, but demand for human bone, cartilage and ligament outstrips the supply.
“If you can use a xenograft — that is cow or pig bone — you can get all the bone you want,” said Farshid Guilak, director of the Orthopaedic Bioengineering Laboratory at Duke University.
“The first thing we do is shape into rough-hewn shapes around the size and specification you might need,” Hartill said. “Then you do the fine machining. It’s actually a screw and it has a thread, so we use identical (cutting and milling) equipment to the titanium-screw manufacturers.”
One popular product is the Sterling Interference Screws [manufactured by Regeneration Technologies -ed], shown above, which are made from bovine metatarsals, the small bones in and around the feet. They’re often used in reconstructive surgery such as repairing the torn anterior cruciate ligament that plagues many athletes.