The major effort in implant material choices for bone surgery look beyond the usual biocompatibility, malleability, bone grit loading but to a single most factor, sheer hardness. Bone cells, or the ones we are known to study as bone cells, the osteoblasts, are unique from all other cell types. They touch substrates, attach, migrate, grow but above all, and unlike all other types, they mineralise. They release substances which in due course forms the hard supportive structures.
The hunt for the best material choice for orthopaedic research hence incepts and circumvents around the sole hard ‘reality’. Till date the atomic number 22 in the periodic table had been the official choice. Titanium, the ‘godly’ element known for its hardness often admixes well with small amounts of Silicon, Vanadium, Zirconium matching the stress load of a natural bone to quite some extent and was considered the industry standard.
Researchers at Rice University have finally cracked the crystal. Incorporation of one certain crystal form of gold have should immense improvements to the hardness properties of the usual titanium, even to the extent of four times. This can potentially shift the paradigm on the multi-billion dollars implant domain where a controllable ‘super’ hard choice of material was always sought for. This has applicability to dentistry as well and emanating from a bonafide biocompatible source as titanium it could find acceptance in the clinical genre much sooner than expected.
In Japan, there is this ancient art of fixing broken crockery called kintsukuroi. Broken stone or ceramic bowl are welded with gold in such a manner that the final piece is more precious than what it had been before being branded as defective or broken. Such is the popularity of this form of art that artists create such gold embalmed potter from fresh pieces, cracking them on purpose. Thus, this form of beautification and strengthening making something good, even better.
Every year the large number of individuals go through the trauma of bone deformity, surgery or disorder. Perhaps this form of gold enabled titanium implants could prosper into plates or rods which possibly might be able to restructure the inner frame of individuals, thus putting the fragmented bowl together, the inner kintsukuroi of our musculoskeletal.
Image from here: http://tinyurl.com/jhqplgb
Research paper from here: http://tinyurl.com/joxksmm