Researchers at Empa Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology have reported success in laboratory testing of a new bonding agent, the element tantalum, that may pave the way to the development of joint implants that last a lifetime.
It is standard procedure today to replace artificial joints that undergo wear due to daily stresses and body movement. But, as bone material is lost each time an implant is explanted, the new joint has to replace more bone and is therefore larger. In the case of intervertebral discs, this is virtually impossible, due to proximity to spinal nerves and tissue structures. Increasing the durability of artificial joints has been an elusive undertaking, due to corrosion of the bonding agent between the joint body and its surface coating. But tantalum was found by Empa researchers to be impervious to corrosion, permitting the development of a disc implant that withstood 100 years of laboratory simulated movement. Read a news story about the discovery here.