Orthopedic procedures, such as hip replacement surgeries, restore mobility to thousands of people each year, but current technology makes them far from perfect. Current implants use polyethylene, stainless steel, titanium or ceramic, which each have their own drawbacks ranging from biocompatability issues, which could lead to infection, to inflexibility, which can lead to the loss of bone density. Moreover, when an implant is placed, it is usually held in place by a rod that is fixed into the marrow of a bone. Bone marrow, which is rich in stem cells that can differentiate into many different kinds of cells, tends to differentiate into soft tissue, which weakens the bond between bone and implant, requiring replacement surgery after 20 or so years.
Researchers as the University of Glasgow in Scotland, however, have developed an orthopedic implant that addresses many of these issues and could very well last for the rest of a patient’s life. The key ingredient of this new, super-strong implant is Invibio Biomaterial Solutions‘ PEEK-OPTIMA, an advanced polymer that is already commonly used in spinal and other orthopedic implants. PEEK is not only biocompatible, but is also flexible; because its mechanical properties are similar to bone, PEEK implants can flex and exercise the surrounding bone, which promotes bone regeneration.
Moreover, the implant is covered with a special surface consisting of tiny pits 120 nanometers in diameter. The pitted surface encourages stem cells to differentiate into bone cells and fuse to the implant, creating a much stronger bond between bone and implant.
An added benefit to potential users of the implant is that they can be made using an injection-molding technique, which could keep costs low by allowing for mass production.
Press release and video: Stem cell-powered implant set to revolutionise orthopaedic surgery