Funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, the international collaboration will focus on improved design and testing to reduce implant faults, failures, or cause orthopaedic complications.
Failure rates within ten years of an artificial joint being fitted range from a few per cent to greater than 30 per cent, depending on the type of device.
Engineers believe problems have arisen with some implants because testing failed to evaluate real-world wear and tear.
Principal investigator, Professor Richard Hall from the School of Mechanical Engineering at Leeds, said: “Total hip and knee replacement is now an established technique that has been hugely successful. Implant technology can improve lives.
“But over the last 20 years, there have been high-profile problems with some implants failing or causing complications which require patients to have repeat surgery.
“In addition, surgeons are fitting new hips and knees to patients who are younger, heavier and more active. That means the devices are under even greater stress. They also want to fit artificial joints in ankles and fingers and they have higher failure rates.
“To overcome these challenges, manufacturers need more accurate testing and better design. We are working with industrial, clinical and academic partners to make that happen, to produce artificial joints that are fit for purpose.”
According to Leeds University, the team hopes to use advanced computer simulation and laboratory tests that capture a more accurate picture of implant performance in human activities including running, walking, jumping and stumbling.
The researchers want also to develop in situ analysis that will monitor implant performance while it is subjected to mechanical testing, which will result in earlier identification – and rectification – of problems.
The main project partners are ETH Zurich, Uppsala University and Lulea Technical University, both in Sweden, and Imperial College London. The project will also train early career researchers for the medical devices industry.