Improving medical implants to enhance the health of patients
Medical implants have helped save or improve countless lives. From heart valves and artificial joints, to bone plates and stents for blood vessels, these biomedical implants have revolutionised medical care in recent years.
However, implants that must remain in a person’s body for a long period of time can cause new problems that may be difficult to counteract. Whenever a foreign object like an implant is placed inside a person’s body, the body immediately reacts to it. After an extended period of time, these reactions can cause the implant to become caked with minerals and plaque, or loosen from bone. These deposits can trigger potential health problems and require the devices to be replaced, therefore posing health risks and increasing costs.
The BioElectricSurface researchers have made significant progress towards solving these problems. Funded by the European Union (EU), the BioElectricSurface project has achieved breakthroughs that can lower health risks, reduce patients’ pain and shorten their hospital stays.
The BioElectricSurface team succeeded in developing materials that prevent minerals from building up on devices after they are implanted.
“We have acquired a new understanding of how these devices interact with the body,” says project coordinator Tofail Syed of Ireland’s University of Limerick. “The new coatings and materials we developed to make devices last longer are expected to benefit a wide range of patients in the long-run,” he adds.
To address these challenges, the project team devised techniques to study, at the nanometre level (one-billionth of a meter), how electrical charges on the surface of implants interact with the body. The research led to breakthroughs that will extend the life of various biomedical devices.
The project also made breakthroughs in developing plaque-resistant cardiovascular stents, faster-healing bone implants, and stone-free urinary stents. The project’s partner in Poland developed cardiovascular stents with a new coating that blocks the formation of plaque while also preventing blood clots.
“Thanks to the technologies we developed, stents will be able to stay inside the body longer,” comments Syed. “This is expected to reduce the number of replacements needed and the potential trauma for the patient.”
In a different direction, partners of the BioElectricSurface project developed textiles that can kill a “superbug” – an antibiotic-resistant strain of the Staphylococcus bacteria. To achieve this, researchers applied nanomaterials – particles a thousand times smaller than a human hair – to hospital drapes, bed linens and upholstery. The new material has the potential to improve the cleanliness of hospitals and therefore reduce the number of hospital-acquired infections.
BioElectricSurface project generated four patent applications, including one filed with project partner US-based COOK Medical, the world’s largest privately owned medical device company. “The commercial impact of our scientific work has been impressive,” concludes Syed.