New materials may hold the key to conquering body’s rejection of prosthetic implants

Health |  2 min. read
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Across the United States and the world, people are living longer and are staying active later in life than ever before. With these realities comes increased demand for medical devices and innovations that improve health outcomes and quality of life.

Prosthetics and implant products are a critical component of this equation, helping to keep seniors mobile and supporting full-activity lives for those suffering from congenital disorders or the after-effects of an accident. Demand for these medical devices, which can be mass produced, made through injection molding, or in some cases 3D printed, is on the rise.

For these prosthetics and implants, a significant outstanding issue remains in how the body’s cells react and incorporate these, usually, metal objects – a process known as osseointegration. Rejection of newly implanted metal prosthetics or the wearing down of these materials raises costs for patients and health systems and undermines patient life.

New materials and research, however, may hold the key to conquering this pervasive problem.

Titanium is a widely used material in these bone-related procedures, given its low aptitude for corrosion and strength compared to its weight. Now, researchers are developing and honing in on the use of unique polymers known as dendrimers to help the body accept and adhere to the new implant.

These polymers, derived from petrochemical building blocks, are seen as “A novel approach to increase the biocompatibility of titanium alloys.” By applying these polymers to the prosthetics before implantation, the body may be more likely to accept the object and to adhere more fully to it.

Now this isn’t as simple as putting a coating on a piece of metal; no, this is serious chemistry. Not only are there multiple steps in each process to coat the titanium, there are also multiple steps to make each chemical substance used in each coating step. But don’t worry, we won’t subject you to all of those details. We just want to give you a flavor of how advanced this revolutionary technology really is.

The whole foundation of the dendrimers starts with 2,2’-bis(chloromethyl)propionic acid and that starts with isobutylene. After that, a whole series of chemical reactions take place with substances slowly being added over under very controlled conditions. Substances like acetonitrile, carbonyl diimidazole, glycidol, isopropanol, tetrahydrofuran, diisopropylethylamine, 3-maleimidopropionic acid, and a whole long list of others. And all of these substances start with the same base petrochemicals – ethylene, propylene, butylene, benzene, toluene and xylene – as all the other cool technologies we’ve been talking about.

Polymers have supported dynamic new approaches to a vast array of efforts including more efficient recycling, better personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, and plastics that biodegrade more quickly.

As we look toward the future, these polymers can be refined and, with further research, play a major role in easing the recovery of patients who receive implants, enhancing their lives and getting them moving more quickly.

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