Hip replacement is one of the most frequent operations carried out in Germany. Each year, doctors implant some 200,000 artificial hip joints. Often the artificial hips need to be replaced just ten years later. In the future, a new implant currently being developed using high technology materials could help prevent premature revision surgeries.
Thanks to artificial hips, people with irreparable damage to the joint have been able to lead active, pain-free lives for the past 50 years.
Still, some hip replacements do not function completely as intended, and metal-on-metal implants in particular, demand accurate positioning in surgery and implants positioned non optimally are often susceptible to premature failure notably in small female patients.
Physicians are even calling for a prohibition on the use of artificial joints made of cobalt-chromium alloys in which the joint's metal ball rubs against its metal socket whenever the wearer walks.
Poorly designed or positioned metal on metal implants can lead to higher wear rates and this releases elevated cobalt-chromium ion levels that spread out through the blood and lymph, potentially damaging organs and triggering inflammation.
Metal ions are also suspected carcinogens. Because these hip replacements are so robust, however, to date they have often been implanted in young, active patients.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, partnering in an international team on an EC-funded project entitled ''ENDURE'' (Enhanced Durability Resurfacing Endoprosthesis), have now developed a new kind of hip implant that, unlike the conventional counterpart implants on the market today, provide a metal-free solution and bone-like elasticity.
This is the result of a metal-free, high-tech composite: The hip socket is made of carbon fibre-reinforced PEEK – a high-strength, wear resistant, biocompatible polymer composite.