Contemporary development of metallic implant materials is driven by the
biocompatibility requirements and also by the need for improved mechanical
performance of biomedical implants. Different paradigms govern this development
for permanent and temporary (bioresorbable) implants. While materials for
permanent implants, e.g. for bone or tooth replacement, obviously need to be as
inert in bodily fluids as possible, those for temporary implants must degrade at
a rate suitable for the targeted application.
Bioactive refers to a material which,
upon being placed within the human body, interacts with the surrounding bone
and, in some cases, even soft tissue.
Biodegradation is referred to as the material breakdown
of chemicals by a physiological environment.
Bioinert refers to any material that, once placed within
the human body, has a minimal interaction with its surrounding
Bioresorbable refers to a material that, upon placement
within the human body, begins to dissolve or to be resorbed and slowly replaced
by the advancing tissues (e.g., bone).
Fibroblast is a type of cell that synthesizes the
extracellular matrix and collagen, the structural framework (stroma) for animal
tissues, and plays a critical role in wound healing.
Hydroxylapatite, also called hydroxyapatite (HA), is a
naturally occurring mineral form of calcium apatite and approximated by the
formulation Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2. HA has
been used as a coating on metallic alloys in orthopedic surgery.
Osteoblast is a mononucleate cell that is responsible for
In a combined effort of our teams at Seoul National
University and Monash University in Melbourne through a World Class
University project on Hybrid Materials for Sustainability at Seoul National
University, two archetypal alloy systems based on titanium and magnesium are
investigated - an obvious choice for the two kinds of applications mentioned.
Indeed, Ti forms a protective surface layer of titania and is considered to be
bio-inert (thus being suitable for permanent implants), while Mg is extremely
reactive and biodegradable.
Modifying the Surface Properties Through Refining the Bulk Structure?
Current research focuses on improving the biocompatibility and the mechanical
performance of these systems through variations in alloy composition,
microstructure and surface treatment. In the case of titanium, significant
efforts go into enhancing the strength characteristics of commercial purity
grades in order to avoid potential bio-toxicity of alloying elements, especially
in dental implants.
In the case of magnesium alloys, a great challenge is the excessively high
rate of their degradation, which is problematic both in terms of the durability
of the implant and the high rate of hydrogen evolution during corrosion, e.g. in
vascular stent applications.
To enhance the mechanical performance of implant materials through
microstructure control, we apply a process known as equal channel angular
pressing (ECAP), which is a viable processing route to grain refinement and
property improvement. It turns out that the extreme grain refinement of the bulk
of the metal down to nanoscale transpires to surface morphology (Fig. 1) that
turns out to be conducive for enhanced adhesion and growth of living
cells1. Indeed, proliferation of the preosteoblast
cells on the surface of nanostructured Ti processed by ECAP was shown to be
hugely enhanced, by a factor of about 20 1! The
mechanism of this spectacular effect is yet to be unraveled.
Microstructure of commercial purity (Grade 2) titanium in the as-received (left)
and ECAP processed (right) conditions. Note the stark difference in the surface
topography of the two materials as revealed by atomic force
Improved adhesion and accelerated rate of proliferation following ECAP
processing of titanium was recently reported for osteoblast2 and fibroblast3 cells, as
well. What is particularly important is that this excellent biocompatibility is
combined with exceptional mechanical properties, the fatigue strength of the
commercial purity titanium approaching the levels known only for Ti alloys, such
Figure 2. Enhanced
growth of preosteoblast cells on nanostructured titanium (top) as compared to
coarse-grained one (bottom). Note the morphology of the cells on nanostructured
Ti indicating their better viability.
Direct Surface Modification
In addition to indirect surface modification via bulk microstructure
refinement, our team also employs various direct surface modification
techniques, including Micro-Arc Oxidation (MAO)4 ,
anodizing and coating with hydroxyapatite (HA)5.
Bone cell growth on titanium designed for bone and dental implants is promoted
by such techniques in a very efficient way. Bioactivity of titanium can be
enhanced further by a combination of these coating techniques. For example, when
HA was deposited on a MAO treated surface, bioactity was higher than in the case
either surface treatment was used in isolation. In addition, coating layers can
be utilized as a conduit for drug or growth factor delivery.
Towards Bioresorbable Magnesium Implants
The potential for using Mg alloys in bioresorbable vascular stents or bone
implants has recently attracted a huge interest of researchers. Reducing the
danger of inflammations and avoiding the need for repeat surgery by using
temporary, biodegradable metallic implants and at the same time capitalizing on
their good mechanical strength is, indeed, a very attractive possibility. It is
small wonder many groups worldwide have rapidly moved into this area. Despite
some problems with biotoxicity of certain alloying elements, structural Mg
alloys have been used in biocompatibility tests, both in vitro and in vivo.
Clinical tests6 have demonstrated the viability
of Mg alloys as stent implant materials. However, we believe that a thorough
screening of Mg alloys with regard to their bio-corrosion and biocompatibility
properties need to be conducted before the alloy selection is made and improving
mechanical performance is attempted. We are currently engaged in such a
screening study7. Recent results supported by the
published work8 suggest, however, that in vivo tests
are indispensable already at this stage, as biocompatibility of Mg alloys in
vitro does not fully represent what happens in vivo.
Figure 3. SEM
micrographs of surface-modified titanium implants: Morphology of MAO treated
surface (top) , anodized surface (middle) and cross-sectional view of HA coating
on Ti substrate (bottom).
Our work has demonstrated that bulk grain refinement techniques, such as
equal-channel angular pressing, are potent tools to improve the fatigue strength
and - at the same time - the bio-corrosion resistance of common structural Mg
alloys9. We are exploring the ways to further
improve the properties of Mg based alloys and make them fit for applications in
However, bulk grain refinement may be insufficient to bring the bio-corrosion
rate down to the levels required by the clinical needs. A natural way to contain
corrosion of Mg and achieve controllable corrosion rates is by surface
modification, particularly through smart coating design. For example, corrosion
of Mg alloys is retarded markedly when a thin MgF2 layer is formed on
the surface in a fluoridation process. Furthermore, when a bioactive material,
such as hydroxyapatite, is deposited on top of the MgF2 layer, both
the corrosion resistance and biocompatibility are enhanced significantly, as
shown in Fig. 3
Figure 4 Coating
layers of MgF2 and hydrohyapatite (HA) on Mg (top) and osteoblast
cells attached on the surface of Mg coated with MgF2 and HA (bottom).
The field of biomedical implant material offers exciting and challenging
opportunities for research at an interface between materials engineering and
biomedical sciences. The interest in this research is fuelled by the high
commercialization potential of innovations in this area. Important breakthroughs
in research on nanostructured metallic materials for medical implants are
therefore to be expected in near future.
1. Y. Estrin, C. Kasper, S. Diederichs and R, Lapovok,
"Accelerated growth of preosteoblastic cells on ultrafine grained titanium", J.
Biomed. Nater. Res. A 90A, 1239-1242 (2008).
2. R. Z. Valiev,
I. P. Semenova, V. V. Latysh, H. Rack, T. C. Lowe, J. Petruzelka, L. Dluhos, D.
Hrusak, J. Sochova, "Nanostructured Titanium for Biomedical Applications", Adv.
Eng. Mater. 10, B15 - B17 (2009).
3. J.-W. Park, Y.-J. Kim, C.
H. Park, D.-H. Lee, Y. G. Ko, J.-H. Jang and C.S. Lee, "Enhanced osteoblast
response to an equal channel angular pressing-processed pure titanium substrate
with microrough surface topography", Acta Biomat. doi:
4. L.H Li., Y.M. Kong, H.W. Kim,
Y.W. Kim, H.E. Kim, S.J. Heo and J.Y. Koak, "Improved Biological Performance of
Ti Implants due to Surface Modification by Micro-arc Oxidation," Biomaterials 25
14. 2867-75 (2004).
5. S. H Lee, H.-E Kim and H. W. Kim,
"Nano-Sized Hydroxyapatite Coatings on Ti Substrate with TiO2 Buffer Layer by
E-beam Deposition," J. Am. Ceram. Soc. 90 1. 50-56 (2007).
R. Erbel et al. " Temporary scaffolding of coronorary arteries with
bioabsorbable magnesium stents: a prospective, non-randomized multo-centre
trial, Lancet 369, 1869-1875 (2007).
7. C. op't Hoog, N.
Birbilis, M.-X. Zhang, Y. Estrin, "Surface grain size effects on the corrosion
of magnesium", Key Eng. Mater 384, 229-240(2008).
Zhang et al. "Research on an Mg-Zn alloy as a degradable biomaterial", Acta
Biomater. DOI: 10.1016/j.actbio.2009.06.028.
9. H. Wang, Y.
Estrin, Z. Zuberova, "Bio-corrosion of a magnesium alloy with different
processing histories", Mater. Lett. 62, 2476-2479 (2008).
Copyright AZoNano.com, Professor Yuri Estrin (Monash University,