The dissolving implants (Day 158)

The dissolving implants (Day 158)

1st November 2014

It is always a brave call to use the word, and sometimes it might be better to be more cautious like ancient scholars who coined the phrase: 'there is nothing new under the sun'.

I read an interesting story recently about medical implants and it sent my mind scurrying back in time to find out when mankind first started using 'implants'.

The earliest trace I could find was an Ancient Egyptian called Hesi-Ra - one of the world's first dentists, who lived around 2686 to 2613 BC.

I'm no expert, but it is reasonable to assume that teeth were one of the first and most common types of implants developed by man with gold, ivory, wood, bone and real 'teeth' being used through the ages.

Even dissolving implants - the topic of today's blog - isn't a new development. Body-degradable metals, usually magnesium based, were looked at in the late 19th century.

What does appear to be novel though, is designing medical devices that degrade over very specific periods of time - a month, 6 weeks, a year, or even longer.

It is something being looked at by the University of PittsburghUniversity of Cincinnati and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

They are creating new alloys and new manufacturing processes that suit clinical demands.

The Wagner consortiums' revolutionary metallic biomaterials’ anterior cruciate ligament rings. Image courtesy of University of Pittsburgh.

The consortium is seeking to design devices that can adapt to changes in a patient's body and dissolve once healing has occurred, reducing the follow-up procedures and potential complications of major orthopedic, craniofacial, and cardiovascular procedures and sparing millions of patients worldwide added pain and medical expenses.

So far, they have developed novel screws and plates for facial reconstruction, a stent to be used in kidney dialysis, a nerve guide, and a ring that will assist in pulling together and healing ruptured ligaments.

The group has also created a tracheal stent for pediatric patients whose tracheas are underdeveloped at birth and prone to collapse. Once the stent is implanted, it is designed to dissolve, obviating the need for a second procedure on the young patient.

The work is being led by William Wagner, director of the University of Pittsburgh McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and professor of surgery, bioengineering, and chemical engineering in the School of Medicine and Swanson School of Engineering.

Wagner's consortium has enough funding for ten years and they already have several generations of prototypes. It certainly sounds a novel development, of an ancient practice, that could one day improve the pain management of people facing multiple operations for a wide range of injuries.