Implant coating could warn doctors of healing problems

US researchers are developing bone implants that could fight infection and alert doctors of any post-surgery problems.

The team from Michigan Technological University (MTU) have created a coating for surgical implants that has magnetic properties that change under pressure, meaning a doctor could scan the patient to see how well the tissue around the implant was healing.

The “magnetoelastic” coating also vibrates when placed in an alternating current magnetic field, which could knock bacteria loose from the implant’s surface and enable the body’s immune system to better fight infection.

This could also help encourage tissue healing, according to lead researcher Keat Ghee Ong, MTU’s associate professor of biomedical engineering.

‘If a cell attaches too much, a small vibration on the coating can loosen it and prevent cell growth,’ he said in a statement. ‘The vibration tells the cell, “Don’t stand there, go away,” in the gentlest way possible.’

The vibrations could also loosen internal scar tissue, which sometimes sticks to foreign objects in the body such as implants, reducing their effectiveness and shortening their lifespan.

The researchers have so far tested the coating in mice but hope it could one day be used on implants in humans. ‘We’re looking at something completely different, using physical stimulation to improve the interface of medical implants,’ said Ong.

He recently discussed his work as one of 24 “Outstanding Young Investigators” invited to present at the 2013 Frontiers in Bioengineering Workshop held at Georgia Institute of Technology in February.

The research is partially funded by the US National Institutes of Health and is described in recent articles in the Journal of Biomedical Science and Engineeringand the Journal of Materials Science: Materials in Medicine.