New spin on implants

Surgical implants coated with nano-sized polymer fibres could help them bond with living bone and last the lifetime of the patient.

The coating material is a product of a new surface engineering process developed at the Micro-Nano Technology Centre (MNTC) for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

It is being developed by Anglia Ruskin University and STFC spin-out The Electrospinning Company, which will eventually license the surfacing technique. The process builds on a technique known as electrospinning, a procedure that uses an electrical charge to turn polymers into thin fibres spun to form a mat of fine fibres.

The MNTC has developed systems to increase the production rate of nanofibres, a challenge that previously prevented the technology from being adopted by industry.

For the initial demonstration, the nano-sized hair-like structures were electrospun at MNTC and added to the surface of an orthopaedic implant to create an interface between the artificial implants and living bone. Not only does this improve the performance of the implants, it also significantly increases their durability.

Other possibilities with the technology include adding a biological coating that can facilitate growth and improve the bonding of healthy tissue to the implant. This will primarily benefit patients with osteoarthritis and sports injuries.

‘Ten per cent of patients receiving surgical implants go on to develop infection and loosening of their implants, costing the UK at least £14m every year,’ said Mansel Williams, chief executive of The Electrospinning Company.

‘We want to eliminate this by creating the ideal implant surface matched to the individual patient, benefiting both the patient and the economy.’