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Radiation could strengthen artificial joints, study finds

Posted on the ORTHOSuperSite September 30, 2011

Short bursts of gamma radiation could potentially toughen plastic artificial joints and enable them to last longer, according to researchers in China.

Researchers note that the findings, recently published in International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Technology, could lead to a reduction in debris produced by artificial joints.

Burst of gamma radiation

Maoquan Xue, of the Changzhou Institute of Light Industry Technology, investigated the impact of addingceramic particles and fibers to two experimental prosthetic joint coating materials — ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) and polyether ether ketone (PEEK). According to a release on the study, neither UHMWPE nor PEEK is considered suitable for prosthetic cartilage material use due to its tendency to crack or fracture under the rigors of everyday use demanded by placement in a hip or knee joint.

Xue found that the addition of ceramic particles to these polymers — followed by a short burst of gamma radiation — breaks up the main polymer chains in the artificial cartilage and thus eliminates the ability of those chains to carry stress across the whole of the construction.

The resulting material, according to the release, is much stronger than the polymer alone and will not produce debris within a joint that might otherwise lead to pain and inflammation.

Potentially improved properties

“Ceramic particles and fibre-filled reinforcement improved the spatial structure of the material,” Xue wrote in the release. “Ion implantation and … irradiation modified the articular cartilage by breaking the molecular main chains, then, by re-crosslinking the free radicals, this structure improved the mechanical properties and tribological properties of materials.”

Xue added in the release that the treated materials could also be more biocompatible, noting that the particular structure of the composites could be receptive to the addition of bone-generating cells, osteocytes or stem cells.


  • Xue M. Research on polymer composites of replacement prostheses. Int J Biomed Eng Technol. 2011. doi: 10.1504/IJBET.2011.042495
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